Newsletter for Fall 2002

In this issue…

From the Department Chair…

Dear Alumni and Friends of the CS Dept at Boston University:

As we close the pages on the 2001/02 academic year–the twentieth in our department’s history–it is befitting to reflect on our achievements so far and look forward to what we hope will be an even brighter future for our department as it assumes a well-deserved place among the top CS departments nationwide.

The 2001/02 Academic Year was a banner year for Computer Science at Boston University on all fronts, with achievements that represent a handsome payoff on the growth of our faculty over the last few years. The following are some excerpts from our 2001/02 annual report summary, with more specific details given throughout this newsletter.

The scholarly work of our faculty continues to be of the highest caliber and impact, as evidenced by publications at the most distinguished venues, by significant citations, and by prestigious national and international recognition. According to the CS Research Index Database (CiteSeer), ten faculty members from our department, representing 60% of our faculty, are ranked in the top 2% of the most cited CS authors.

The level of sponsored research has risen to unprecedented levels�over $6.5M of new grants in the last 12 months�with many faculty members securing multiple large grants, and with highly-prestigious grants awarded to our faculty, including two NSF CAREER awards, two NSF ITR awards, and a significant NSF Research Infrastructure Award.

Our course offerings feature a broad set of courses that reflect the diversity of computer science and ensure that BU students have access to one of the best computer science curricula in the nation. And, for the first time in over ten years, our curriculum is covered by full-time faculty members, making our reliance on part-time instructors and graduate students a thing of the past.

Despite the downturn in the economy, our Industrial Affiliates Program (IAP) secured participation from some of the top names in industry, including Microsoft, IBM, Sprint, Network Appliance, Motorola, and Sun Microsystems.

While our campaign to reconnect with our alumni body through BUCAN has been a great success so far, there are still many BU/CS graduates that we are not able to reach. I am thus asking for your help. If you know of a friend or classmate, I ask you to please point them in our direction by referring them to BU ‘s Computing Alumni Network. Also, please remember to keep your coordinates up-to-date using the “Stay In Touch” on-line form at the BUCAN web site.

As I indicated in the Spring 2002 newsletter, I hope that this newsletter will become a venue for communication between all of you–alumni and friends of CS at BU. Please don’t hesitate to send us news and/or announcements that you feel are appropriate to share with the BUCAN community, either in future newsletters or on the BUCAN web site. You can do so via email to:

Azer Bestavros

Associate Professor and Chairman
CS Department, Boston University

Robert Popp (BA’92) speaks at the CS convocation for the Class of 2002

The 2002 graduating class, the largest in the Department�s 20-year history, was treated to a convocation speech by Robert Popp, one of the department�s alumni and a member of BU Class of 1992. Robert Popp is the Deputy Director of the newly established Information Awareness Office, working with the likes of John Poindexter, the former National Security Advisor under Ronald Reagan on aspects of Homeland Security. In light of the events of September 11th, Robert Popp�s return to our department ten years after he graduated to talk to our 2002 graduates about the importance of IT in preserving our freedoms and our way of life was both befitting and inspiring. In his introduction of Robert (Bob) Popp to the Class of 2002, Chairman Azer Bestavros noted:

Some number of years ago, I recall sitting where you are sitting today, listening to all sorts of speeches and sermons about how �momentous� a graduation event is and how it underscores the manner in which a graduating class will �change the world�, how it will �leave its mark� on society and technology, and how it will serve its alma mater for years to come. Back then (as I am sure it is the case for many of you today), it all sounded hyped up, or somehow hollow. I did not mind it, but I really had my doubts as to whether a few students could really �change the world� or �leave their mark�, etc. The impact of �technocrats� like us may seem even more doubtful today in this unsettled world of post September 11th. Today, I am both proud and honored to present to you �proof� that all the talk about expectations and impact is neither hype nor hollow. It is true�and especially true in today�s world. Ten years ago, a fellow by the name of Robert Popp sat where you are sitting today�one of many graduating Computer Scientists from the class of 1992. Today, he comes back to his alma mater as an accomplished leader, shaping our nation�s intelligence efforts in using technology to infiltrate terrorist networks.

In his speech, Bob underscored the role that information technology could play in our nation’s efforts to thwart terrorist threats without sacrificing our hard-earned freedoms and civil liberties. Reminding the Class of 2002 of the challenges aheadboth technical and societalhe gave many examples of key IT technologies that will give our armed forces and our law enforcement agencies the upper hand in dealing with asymmetric threats.


The graduating class of 2002 comprised 119 students, setting a record for the department since its inception in 1981. Pictures from the CS convocation ceremonies are available on the Web at


IAP Research Day: A Great Success!

On February 22nd, our Department’s Research Laboratories hosted the first IAP Research Day. Representatives from most of our IAP member companies (including, Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems, NetApp, InfoLibria) and from portfolio companies of Boston University Community Technology Fund were treated to an overview of the Department and of its recent successes and future plans. A poster session of more than 30 projects followed, with graduate students and faculty members giving brief overviews of the research goals and results of each project. Feedback from member companies was very positive and plans are underway for a similar event in Fall of 2003.

For more information on our IAP program and/or to attend our next such event, please refer to the IAP Web pages, or contact the coordinator of this program, Professor Ibrahim Matta (

Dept wins a major NSF award to acquire a “Sensorium” Research Infrastructure

Over the last two years, a group of faculty members collaborated on a department-wide effort that secured over $1,700,000 of funding from the NSF in support of a �Sensorium� infrastructure for research on networked, ad-hoc visual sensory systems. Of 21 institutions competing this year, six were selected for site visits and three are being recommended for funding, of which BU is one. This two-year marathon spearheaded by Azer Bestavros and Stan Sclaroff is a great achievement for our department and indeed for the university. It speaks volumes for our ability to compete against the top US institutions in these highly-visible competitions.

Quoting from the executive summary of this project (entitled “SENSORIUM: Research Infrastructure for Managing Spatio-Temporal Objects in Video Sensor Networks”):

The proliferation of networked, embedded digital video sensors in our society is likely to result in a paradigm shift in many areas of basic computer science research to address the unique spatio-temporal aspects of sensory (visual) data acquisition, processing, representation, communication, storage, real-time indexing and retrieval, and security and privacy management. We plan to address some of these challenges within the SENSORIUM: a research infrastructure composed of a sensor network of video cameras spanning several rooms, networked processing units, and a terabyte database, which are managed together to satisfy user queries including those generated by mobile users within this environment.

Current methods for resource management of sensor networks have been mostly implementation-specific. Furthermore, issues of safety, security, and privacy have been essentially ignored. As such, there is a critical need for the development of generic services that support a wide range of applications making use of an open sensor network infrastructure, such as the SENSORIUM. In support of this goal, the SENSORIUM infrastructure will enable the pursuit of the following key projects: (1) Modeling, interpretation, and prediction of human motion in video streams at multiple scales in space/time and at multiple layers of detail; (2) Development of efficient location management, routing, transport, and content distribution protocols for multi-resolution/scale streaming sensory data networks; (3) Characterization of traffic and access patterns in mobile sensory networks; (4) Instrumentation of embedded real-time operating systems to enable coordinated resource management and the development of middleware services for the management of active sensor networks; (5) Indexing and mining of large spatio-temporal non-textual sensory datasets, with a particular emphasis on mining of human motions and activities; (6) Enhancing code safety for embedded systems through the use of type systems and run-time support, with emphasis on flow-oriented programming; (7) Development of algorithms and protocols for supporting security and trust, and for protecting the confidentiality and integrity of data in video sensor networks and repositories.

The above collaborative projects will target two vertical applications. The first aims to merge the physical and cyber worlds in an integrated, well-defined, and privacy-protecting manner. It involves the development of a system capable of gathering, interpreting, routing, and storing data from distributed video sensors, and answering queries about the physical world on the Web. The second aims to develop assistive environments for people with severe disabilities, to help them gain access to computers, and thereby obtain a tool to communicate with their environments.

The impacts of the proposed infrastructure are many. The SENSORIUM will catalyze fundamental advances in image and video computing, network protocols, and resource management to deal with the unique spatio-temporal constraints of sensor networks. The availability of the SENSORIUM for hands-on experimentation will provide an important resource for teaching and practical training of students on emerging ubiquitous computing technologies. And, more broadly, advances due to SENSORIUM projects will impact the society and economy by accelerating the adoption and judicious use of sensor networks in the home, workplace, and public settings.

This award (the second of its kind in our department�s history) will ensure continued first-rate departmental research instrumentation for our faculty and students, and will be key to the acquisition of new laboratories in our forthcoming Computer Science Building. The following quote from one of the site visitors� reports sums it all:

�The PIs are young and bring a high level of enthusiasm and energy to this project. Throughout the site visit, they demonstrated close ties among themselves, a good indicator that they will conduct the proposed interdisciplinary research. In addition, they recently completed a project that was partially supported by an RI grant. This project was extremely successful. It contributed significantly to the visibility as a vital up and coming Department.�

NSF cites Shanghua Teng for one of the most influential research results in 2001

In its FY’03 budget request to Congress, the National Science Foundation (NSF) cited the work of Shanghua Teng on Smoothed Analysis of Algorithms as one of the three most influential results for Computer Science and Engineering in the last year. Quoting from that report:

“[The work of Shanghua Teng and his collaborator Dan Spielman of MIT enabled computer scientists] to gain a deeper understanding of the Simplex Method, a widely used algorithm that has defied complete understanding for over 50 years.”

One of the main objectives of research in algorithmic complexity is to obtain mathematically rigorous analyses of how algorithms perform. A great achievement of research in this area has been the proof that many algorithms have good worst-case performance. This is a very strong guarantee as it means that these algorithms will perform well on all inputs. However, many practical algorithms have not been amenable to worst-case analysis. The most often cited example is the simplex method, which has been effectively used since the 1950’s to solve optimization problems in numerous industrial applications. As the simplex method has poor worst-case performance, scientists have long been challenged by the lack of a mathematically rigorous explanation of its good practical performance.

Teng and Spielman’s introduction of smoothed analysis of algorithms enables us finally to understand and explain the good practical performance of the simplex method. Using smoothed analysis, one analyzes the performance of an algorithm assuming there is slight imprecision in its input. This assumption is reasonable in many real-world applications in which data is derived from experimental measurements. While an algorithm with a good worst-case analysis will perform well on all inputs, an algorithm with a good smoothed analysis will perform well on almost all inputs in every small neighborhood of inputs. One surprising corollary of this work is that experimental error in the data input to an algorithm can actually improve an algorithm’s performance.

Margrit Betke is selected as member of the CRA-W Distributed Mentor Project

Margrit Betke was selected by the Computing Research Association (CRA) to be a member of the National CRA-W Distributed Mentor Project, funded by the National Science Foundation and managed by the CRA�s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research. As a member of this program, Margrit Betke will host exceptionally strong female undergraduate students, who will spend their summers in our department and will thus have a opportunity to interact with various faculty members and students and to work closely in directed research activities with faculty and students, with the hope that this unique experience will enable them to develop further their interest in pursuing an advanced graduate degree in Computing and that they will find in our department an excellent environment in that regard.

Over the last two years, Margrit Betke has been active in organizing a semi-annual meeting for the Women In Computer Science (WICS) group at Boston University. All female undergraduate and graduate students in the CS department are invited to these meetings in which experiences are shared and concerns are raised and addressed. If you would like to know more about this program, please contact Margrit Betke at

Wayne Snyder wins the College Award for Excellence in Student Advising

In recognition of his exceptional efforts in advising Computer Science students for many years, for his significant attention to improving the quality of our advising system, for mentoring junior faculty members on advising matters, and for his exemplary participation in various advising activities in the College, Wayne Snyder was a recipient of one of this year�s CAS Award for Excellence in Student Advising. The following is the citation he received.

Professor Wayne Snyder’s advisees praise his enthusiasm, availability, and honesty as an academic advisor. Students especially extol his wide-ranging counsel, which helps them to plan not only their curricula, but also their professional lives after graduation. One student noted that Professor Snyder began acting as her advisor even before she had enrolled at B.U., willingly exchanging emails about her “first semester courses and choice of major.” Professor Snyder sets aside ample time to meet with each advisee, often in multiple sessions per semester, attempting to gauge the ambitions and strengths of the student as well as potential obstacles in the student’s path. The College is therefore very please to present to Professor Wayne Snyder a 2002 College Award for Excellence in Student Advising.

Highlights of student achievements in 2001/02

The achievements of our student body continue to reach new heights! The following are only few examples:

  • Many members of the Class of 2002 were recognized for their academic achievements. Four students graduated Phi Beta Kappa, eleven students graduated Magna Cum Laude, and thirteen students graduated Cum Laude. Tsvetomir Valtchev received the College Prize for Excellence in Computer Science. Gerald Fry and Jennifer Wortman both received Academic Achievement Awards from the department.
  • Our students continued to secure prestigious national fellowships and awards. Anna Karpovsky and Scott Russell, both second year PhD students, were named National Physical Sciences Consortium (NPSC) fellows in 2001 and 2002, respectively. This prestigious fellowship will support their tuition and stipends for up to five years. Shudong Jin, a third year PhD student, secured a prestigious IBM Research Fellowship, which supported him for all of AY�2001/02.
  • Alumni of our PhD program are being aggressively recruited by leading academic departments and research laboratories. Noteworthy examples include Khaled Harfoush, an alumnus of the networking research group, who is starting in September 2002 as a tenure-track assistant professor in the CS Department at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) and Elena Machkasova, also an alumnus of the programming languages group, who will be starting as a faculty member at Wellesley College in September 2002.
  • Our students are being recruited for employment at leading research laboratories. Santiago Pericas, an alumnus of the programming languages group, started in Spring 2002 at Sun Microsystems to lead their research on XML-enabled technologies. Sumit Mehrotra, an alumnus of the networking research group, started at Microsoft working on their Tablet PC technology. Other students who secured industrial internships include Mina Guirguis (Microsoft), Shudong Jin (IBM), Anna Karpovsky (NSA), Alberto Medina (Sprint), Dhiman Birman (Motorolla), among others.
  • This year, our students participated in record numbers in the University�s Science and Technology Day organized on March 26th, 2002. Their presentations and enthusiasm was noted by many participants. Out of 119 participants from all of BU schools, 14 posters (representing 20% of the 70 posters from the Graduate School) were from Computer Science, and one of these (by Harrison Hong, an advisee of Margrit Betke) won the Provost�s Award.

Reunion for BU/CS alumni working at Microsoft planned for July 30th

On July 30th, 2002, a reunion of BU/CS alumni currently working at Microsoft is planned. This event will feature a short briefing by Chairman Azer Bestavros on the recent successes and future plans of the department. This reunion will coincide with the 2002 Microsoft Faculty Summit, and thus a number of other faculty members from the department will also be present. Invitations for this event have been sent out. Please tell friends and colleagues! For more details, please contact us at

We hope that this will be the first of many such reunions to take place at major corporations or IT hubs nationwide. If you would like to help organize or facilitate such an event, please contact us at