Department News: Barbara Liskov named Institute Professor

Cheers and congratulatory toasts abounded on the ninth floor of the Stata Center, Tuesday afternoon, July 1, as Barbara H. Liskov, the Associate Provost for Faculty Equity and Ford professor of Engineering in the EECS Department and member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, CSAIL, learned that she had been named an Institute Professor, the highest honor awarded by MIT’s faculty and administration. EECS and Institute colleagues joined the celebration.

From left, Department Head, Eric Grimson, Bish Sanyal, head of the faculty and Ford Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, EECS Prof. John V. Guttag, and CSAIL Director, Victor Zue (far right) raise a glass of champagne to celebrate Barbara Liskov’s being named Institute Professor.

From left, Department Head, Eric Grimson, Bish Sanyal, head of the faculty and Ford Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, EECS Prof. John V. Guttag, and CSAIL Director, Victor Zue (far right) raise a glass of champagne to celebrate Barbara Liskov’s being named Institute Professor.

Barbara Liskov has maintained a calm but noteworthy presence throughout her career as a woman computer scientist—receiving her BA in mathematics at the University of California-Berkeley in 1961, and earning the distinction of being the first American female awarded a PhD from a computer science department—which she earned in 1968 at Stanford University.

An MIT faculty member since 1972, Liskov currently heads the Programming Methodology Group at her MIT home in CSAIL. On the occasion of the July 1 promotion, MIT Provost Reif described her accomplishments: “Barbara has taught countless undergraduates and graduate students who have gone on to help lead top universities, research labs and IT companies. As a computer scientist, she has made a tremendous impact not only through her ground breaking research, but through the legions of those she has taught along the way.”

Liskov’s research interests lie in programming methodology, programming languages and systems and distributed computing. Her current research focuses on Byzantine-fault-tolerant storage systems, peer-to-peer computing and support for automatic deployment of software upgrades in large-scale distributed systems. Her considerable research contributions include the design and implementation of CLU, the first language to support data abstraction; the design and implementation of Argus, the first high-level language to support implementation of distributed programs; and the Thor object-oriented database system, which provides transactional access to persistent, highly-available objects in wide-scale distributed environments.

Barbara Liskov is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM). She received the Society of Women Engineers’ Achievement Award in 1996 and the IEEE John von Neumann medal in 2004. In 2002, Liskov was named by Discover magazine as one of the 50 most important women in science. She received the ACM SIGPLAN Programming Languages Achievement Award in 2008, where she was cited for having “changed the way that a generation of engineers thought about and constructed large software systems.”

At MIT, Barbara has served the larger MIT community through a range of activities ranging from serving on the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, in 1974, to her current position as Associate Provost for Faculty Equity, services for which MIT President Susan Hockfield noted: “In addition to her seminal scholarly contributions, Barbara has served MIT with great wisdom and judgment in several administrative roles.” Liskov has consistently been praised for the effective role model she has created for women at the Institute.

Institute Professorships are reserved for those few individuals who have “demonstrated exceptional distinction by a combination of leadership, accomplishment and service in the scholarly, educational and general intellectual life of the Institute or wider academic community,” according to MIT’s Policies and Procedures manual. With Liskov’s appointment, there are now 13 current Institute Professors. Including Institute Professors Emeriti, there are 23 faculty members holding this distinction. Three EECS faculty members are Institute Professors: Mildred Dresselhaus, Thomas Magnanti and Joel Moses.

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