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Juris Hartmanis, first CS department chair, dies at 94


Juris Hartmanis, a Turing Award-winning pioneer who was instrumental in establishing computer science as an independent field, and founding chair of Cornell’s Department of Computer Science, died July 29 at 94.

Often referred to as the “father of computational complexity,” Hartmanis discovered a set of fundamental laws governing computational complexity, laying the foundation for a comprehensive theory of the efficiency and limits of computing. .

At Cornell, Hartmanis established one of the first computer science departments in the world.

“Juris is a visionary researcher, leader and mentor,” said Kavita Bala, dean of the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science. “His legacy lives on in the discipline he helped build and in the minds of many people, like me, he inspired.”

Hartmanis was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1928. His father, a general in the Latvian army, died in prison after the Soviet occupation of Latvia in the 1940s, leading Hartmanis and his family to emigrate to Germany. He finished high school in a refugee camp and earned an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Marburg. Through the sponsorship of a family friend, he moved to the US and received his master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Kansas City (now known as the University of Missouri–Kansas City) in 1951 and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1955.

From 1955 to 1957 he was an instructor of mathematics at Cornell, followed by nine months as assistant professor of mathematics at Ohio State University. In 1958 he was tempted by industrial research and joined the General Electric (GE) Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, where he spent the next seven years.

It was at GE that he and colleague Richard Stearns established the field of computational complexity, an area of ​​research that remains one of the central topics in computer science to this day. There is early work on the analysis of algorithms that attempts to establish upper or lower bounds on the time of specific algorithms for various computational problems, but very few general principles that unify the behavior in these algorithms.

Their key contribution was the study of the inherent complexity of the problems themselves. In their 1965 paper, “On the Computational Complexity of Algorithms,” they defined the basic idea of ​​a complex class – a class of problems that can be solved in a certain time bound by a multitape Turing machine. They show that this idea is very robust in the sense that the types of complexity are not independent of the time scale and cannot be matched by small changes in the machine model, so the results are related to anything reasonable. calculation model. They proved several theorems about the separation and hiding of complexity classes, thus establishing the existence of an infinite hierarchy of complexity classes.

For this foundational work, Hartmanis and Stearns received the 1993 Turing Award, the top honor in computer science.

In 1965, Hartmanis returned to Cornell as the first chair of the newly established Department of Computer Science. Under his leadership, graduates became faculty members in new computer science departments that were formed around the country.

“Juris has been an inspiration to generations of computer scientists since the early days of the field,” said Dexter Kozen, the Joseph Newton Pew Jr. Professor of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science. “I was fortunate to study under Juris at Cornell, where his influence on the culture of the department is still felt to this day. The news of his death left me with a deep sense of loss, as I am sure is true of many.

Hartmanis served as chair of the department three times – 1965-71, 1977-83 and 1992-93 – and finally retired from the university in 2001 as the Walter R. Read Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Emeritus.

“We have a lot to thank Juris for,” said Éva Tardos, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Computer Science and chair of the Department of Computer Science. “He built our department, and built the collegial and collaborative culture that has helped us become the great department it is today.”

Beyond his service at Cornell, Hartmanis has contributed to national efforts to advance the field of computer science. He led a National Research Council Study that resulted in the 1992 publication, “Computing the Future: A Broader Agenda for Computer Science and Engineering.” The report outlines a research agenda and recommends an educational, funding and leadership framework designed to bring computing into the 21st century.

From 1996 to 1998, Hartmanis served as assistant director of the National Science Foundation, where he headed the Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). There, he led efforts to transform the academic research network NSFnet into the early internet.

He also serves on the science board and science steering committee of the Santa Fe Institute, an independent, nonprofit research group established to advance research in the complex sciences.

Among his many awards, Hartmanis is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the Latvian Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and the American Mathematical Society. . He received the Bolzano Gold Medal from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Computing Research Association’s Distinguished Service Award. In 1993, he received a Humboldt Foundation Senior US Scientist Award, and he holds honorary doctorates from the University of Missouri and the University of Dortmund.

Juris was predeceased by his wife Elly (Rehwaldt) and is survived by three children: Reneta McCarthy, Martin Hartmanis and Audrey Langkammerer.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Ithaca Sciencenter in his memory. A Celebration of Life will be held at the Ithaca Yacht Club on August 15, noon-2 pm

Patricia Waldron is a writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.



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