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Global Impact of UMD Computer Scientist Recognized

April 11, 2014

Lee Tune 301-405-4679
Tom Ventsias 301-405-5933

  Samet shows his NewsStand app, which gives users a new way to find worldwide news.
  Samet shows his NewsStand app, which gives users a new way to find worldwide news.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Probably very few of the millions of people who use Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth know that these and many other computer applications -- ranging from games, to map and image processing, to computer graphics and visualization -- are made possible, in significant part, by the pioneering "spatial information" work of Distinguished University Professor Hanan Samet (computer science, Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, and Center for Automation Research). 

However, the many awards Samet has received in recent years – including the just announced 2014 W. Wallace McDowell Award from the IEEE Computer Society – clearly show that his computer science and computer engineering peers do recognize his foundational contributions.

The W. Wallace McDowell Award, the highest technical honor given by the IEEE Computer Society, goes to individuals for "outstanding theoretical, design, educational, practical or other innovative contributions in the field of computing." Samet was recognized for his groundbreaking work in "multidimensional spatial data structures, translation validation and proof-carrying code."

Other top accolades Samet has received include the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) 2011 Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award, which honors "specific theoretical accomplishments that significantly affect the practice of computing," and the 2009 University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) Research Award.

"We are very proud of Hanan's research and scholarship. His work has high scientific value, but also impacts our everyday lives—from computer games to navigational tools to biomedical imaging," says Jayanth Banavar, dean of UMD's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

The IEEE Computer Society award is named for W. Wallace McDowell, who spent decades overseeing IBM's development of the first commercial electronic calculator. Previous winners read like a who's who of giants in the computing and information technology industry.

They include FORTRAN creator John W. Backus (1967); supercomputer pioneers Seymour Cray (1968), Gene Amdahl (1976) and Ken Kennedy (1995); the architect of IBM's mainframe computer Frederick Brooks (1970); Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore (1978); Donald Knuth, the father of algorithm analysis (1980); microprocessor inventor Federico Faggin (1994); World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee (1996); Lotus Notes creator and Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (2000); and IBM Fellow Ronald Fagin (2012).

Samet was recognized for his groundbreaking work in "spatial data structures, translation validation and proof carrying code.""Hanan can be regarded as the world's leading authority in spatial databases and multidimensional data structures," says Distinguished University of North Carolina Computer Science Professor Dinesh Manocha, who is not affiliated with any of the awards Samet has received. "In fact, a lot of folks attribute the development of the field of spatial databases to Hanan's pioneering work in the 80's and his first two books on the topic that were published in 1990. Those earlier books, along with his more recent book Foundations of Multidimensional and Metric Data Structures are regarded as the bibles of this field."

Samet authored the award-winning "Foundations of Multidimensional and Metric Data Structures" (Morgan-Kaufmann, 2006) and the first two books on spatial data structures, "Design and Analysis of Spatial Data Structures" and "Applications of Spatial Data Structures: Computer Graphics, Image Processing, and GIS" (Addison-Wesley, 1990).

His 1975 Stanford University doctoral thesis dealt with proving the correctness of translations of the LISP programming language, which was the first work in the field that 20 years later became known as translation validation and the related concept of proof carrying code. This work enables proving the correctness of the bootstrapping process, which is crucial to porting on embedded systems.

Samet is founding editor-in-chief of ACM Transactions on Spatial Algorithms and Systems, and the founding chair of ACM SIGSPATIAL. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Association for Pattern Recognition, ACM, IEEE and the UCGIS.

Samet's recent work involves spatio-textual search as realized in an application he and his students developed called NewsStand, which lets users search for worldwide news on their computers or mobile devices with a query interface displayed on a world map.

Samet likens the research to exploiting the power of spatial synonyms, saying that NewsStand is useful because you don't have to plug in keywords, you just have to have an idea of an area or topic you want to explore.