Rice University Computer Science alumni Mary Hall and Aaron Hertzmann have been named fellows of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Mary Hall was cited for her contributions to compiler optimization and performance tuning. She earned her Rice CS B.A. in 1985 and her Ph.D. in 1991 and has been teaching courses and leading research teams at the University of Utah’s School of Computing for more than a decade. Before she entered the Utah tenure track, Hall had already spent five years as a research associate professor at the University of Southern California and a total of four years as a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology and research scientist at Stanford University.
Her research focuses on compiler-based approaches to obtaining high performance on state-of-the-art and experimental architectures, including multi-cores, GPUs and petascale platforms.
Hall’s current research team is developing auto-tuning compiler technology to systematically map application code to make efficient use of these diverse architectures. An auto-tuning compiler generates a set of alternative implementations of a computation, and uses empirical measurement to select the best-performing solution. The team’s compiler can work automatically or collaboratively with application programmers to accelerate their performance tuning and in some cases, produce results far better than is possible with manual tuning.
In October 2019, Hall was one of the invited alumni speakers for the Rice CS Department’s 35th Anniversary. She spoke on two separate panels, representing her twin passions: compilers and systems, and the importance of diversity and inclusion across academia and industry for computer science students, faculty members, and professionals.
She has long been an advocate for improving cultural and gender balance in CS academic programs and industry roles.
“There are times when you doubt yourself,” she said. “We all have. Just remind yourself that you can do it and go find someone who will encourage you. I still need that. Everywhere I’ve worked, I built a network [of people like me] and we help each other.
“Sometimes you have to look a little farther. You look around and you are just surrounded by all these guys – or if you are minority – all these Caucasians and Asians –and you think, ‘no one understands me or what I’m going through’ and it is nice to find those people who you can talk to about that. You help each other.”
Several years before her IEEE Fellow nomination, Hall was recognized as a Distinguished Scientist by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM). She is also an ACM Board Member and recently served as the plenary speaker chair for the ACM Federated Computing Research Conference.
Coincidentally, another ACM Board Member with ties to the Rice CS department was also recently elevated to IEEE Fellow. Vivek Sarkar, now the Stephen Fleming Chair in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, served 10 years as Rice’s E.D. Butcher Chair and computer science professor and another three years as the CS department Chair.
Hertzmann earned his B.A. in CS at Rice in 1996 and his Ph.D. in CS at New York University in 2001. He was cited for contributions to computer graphics and animation in his IEEE Fellow nomination, and he is on a roll. Last year, he was named an ACM Fellow.
He’s worked as a principal scientist at Adobe for the past seven years and has served as an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington’s Paul Allen School of Computer Science since 2005. In a recent UW article, Hertzmann talked about the shift in his research to pushing boundaries in the realm of visual perception and the interplay between art and artificial intelligence (AI).
“I’m currently interested in ways that insights from computer science can inform our understanding of art: of understanding how we create and perceive aesthetics and line drawings," he said. In addition to his connection with UW, Hertzmann retains his ties with Rice, where he was recognized as an Outstanding Young Engineering Alumnus in 2011. In both the spring and fall semesters of 2019, he was invited to give a guest lecture on his recent research findings.
Hertzmann said, “Since I’ve been paying attention to what artists are doing all over the world, I’ve noticed how technology contributes to the ways they create new works, and it’s an ongoing process of improvement. The development of artwork is improved by new technologies. Then artists do new cool things with that technology, and then a few months later there is a new technology to try.”
Prior to joining Adobe, Hertzmann worked as a visiting research scientist at Pixar Animation Studies and spent a decade as a CS professor at the University of Toronto.
For both Hertzmann and Hall, the elevation from IEEE member to Fellow is a major career milestone. Only 0.1% (one tenth of one percent) or fewer of the total number of active voting IEEE members each year can be elevated to the rank of Fellow.
To be eligible for consideration, members must have been in their professional practice at least ten years, with significant performance over five of those years. They are required to have completed five full years of IEEE membership and to currently be an IEEE Senior or Life Member. The nomination must demonstrate accomplishments that have contributed importantly to the advancement or application of engineering, science and technology, and bring the realization of significant value to society.
Unlike a lifetime award, the Fellow nomination can highlight only one or two areas of impact. The nomination must include references from three to five current IEEE Fellows from around the world who are experts in the nominee’s specific field and can attest to value and impact of the nominee’s contributions.
The nomination is first reviewed by the IEEE Society or Technical Council --similar to a special interest group-- in which the member is most active. Within this realm of colleagues focused on similar areas of research and innovation, the nominee’s merit undergoes a review by professionals already familiar with his or her work.
The second evaluation is undertaken by the IEEE Fellow Committee. The chair of the committee and each of the 51 committee judges have already been elevated to the rank of Fellow. Nominations are due on March 1 each year, the first round of evaluations is completed by mid-June, and the IEEE Fellow Committee reviews the nominations, assigns each a numerical score, and finalizes their serialized list of names and scores in the fall. Based on the rankings, the top 0.1% (or fewer) of nominees are recommended for elevation to IEEE Fellow in the late fall.