Robin Milner Young Researcher Award


The Robin Milner Young Researcher Award is given by ACM SIGPLAN to recognize outstanding contributions by young investigators in the area of programming languages. Individuals are eligible if their computer-related professional career (graduate school or full-time employment, whichever began first) started no earlier than 20 years prior to the nominations deadline. The award includes a prize of $2,500.

Robin Milner (13 January, 1934 - 20 March, 2010)

Robin Milner was, for decades, a leading light in programming language research, developing many of the ideas that now form the backbone of the field. Among Milner’s biggest gifts to the field was his passion for mentoring and nurturing young colleagues, many of whom have grown into world leaders in their own right. It seems fitting that an award be established in his name to further encourage new generations of outstanding researchers.

Milner’s academic career began with posts at City University (University of London), Swansea, and Stanford. In 1973 he joined the University of Edinburgh, where in 1986 he co-founded the legendary Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science (LFCS). In 1995 he left Edinburgh for Cambridge, where he was head of the Computer Laboratory for several years. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1998 and received the Turing Award in 1991. The Turing Award citation includes this capsule summary of his contributions:

Working in challenging areas of computer science for twenty years, Robin Milner has the distinction of establishing an international reputation for three distinct and complete achievements, each of which has had and will continue to have a marked, important, and widespread effect on both the theory and practice of computer science:

LCF, the mechanization of Scott’s Logic of Computable Functions, probably the first theoretically based yet practical tool for machine-assisted proof construction. ML, the first language to include polymorphic type inference together with a type-safe exception-handling mechanism. CCS, a general theory of concurrency. In addition, he formulated and strongly advanced full abstraction, the study of the relationship between operational and denotational semantics.

A key ingredient in all of his work has been his ability to combine deep insight into mathematical foundations of the subject with an equally deep view of the key engineering issues, thus allowing the feedback of theory into practice in an exciting way. Further, his style of scholarship, rigor, and attention to aesthetic quality sets a high example for all to follow.

Selection Processs

Nominations will be due on the fifth of January of each year. The recipients of the award will be selected by the SIGPLAN Awards committee, which is constituted as follows. (1) The Chair of the Awards committee shall be a member of the SIGPLAN Executive Committee, and shall be appointed by the executive committee. (2) The Chair of the SIGPLAN EC shall be an ex-officio member of the Awards committee. If the EC Chair is unable to serve, he or she may appoint another member of the EC as a substitute. (3) The steering committees of the major SIGPLAN Conferences, POPL, PLDI, ICFP, and SPLASH, shall each appoint a member to the Awards Committee. The committee shall also have the option to decline to make an award in a given year, if no suitable nominations are presented.

At the discretion of the SIGPLAN Awards Committee, eligibility may be adjusted for documented family-related or medical leave from employment. Questions about eligibility should be directed to the Secretary of SIGPLAN.

Nominations

Details of the nomination and award process (pdf)

Please use http://awards.sigplan.org/ to submit nominations.

Conflicts of Interest

Because these awards are intended to recognize persons and software systems of major influence, it is likely that several members of the awards committee may have worked with, or co-authored articles with, the nominees, and may have a conflict of interest. The primary mechanism for handling such conflicts will be to declare them to the committee; once so declared, conflicts of interest shall not automatically prevent a committee member from taking part in the selection process. However, if a member of the committee, or the chair of the committee, feels that the association of a committee member with a nominee would interfere with impartial consideration of the nominees, a committee member shall be absented from the relevant parts of the discussion. If the same committee member has conflicts of interest with more than one nominee, the Chair of the Awards Committee may ask the constituency that appointed the committee member to select a replacement member.

Clarification

Note that, in consultation with the ACM Awards Board, the wording of the Milner Award eligibility requirement has been updated to clarify that the 20-year time frame is in relation to the nomination deadline (rather than the vague “time of nomination” as was originally written).

– Derek Dreyer (on behalf of the SIGPLAN Executive Committee)

Recipients

2014 Sumit Gulwani

Citation:

Sumit Gulwani has made pioneering contributions to the field of programming languages, especially in the areas of program analysis and program synthesis. Building on his foundational work in program analysis including using randomized algorithms, improving abstract interpretation, and reasoning about programs as continuous functions, Dr. Gulwani recognized the important connection between program verification and program synthesis. His research has demonstrated that imprecise human intent, in the form of examples, natural language, and other kinds of input, can be transformed into incomplete program specifications, which together with ranking techniques can then be used to synthesize intended programs, empowering users to accomplish complex and repetitive programming tasks without needing any knowledge of programming. His contributions include algorithms for synthesizing string transformation programs by examples, published in POPL 2011, and the technical basis for “Flash Fill”, a new feature shipping in Microsoft’s Excel 2013. He has since then extended this line of algorithmic work to synthesizing programs in several other important domains and also broadly advertised this line of work by publishing in top-tier ACM conferences in various other areas including AI, machine learning, HCI, databases, and knowledge discovery. He has also championed the application of program synthesis techniques to developing intelligent tutoring systems for numerous subject domains including introductory programming, mathematics, logic, and automata theory. The visionary aspects of his work were recently recognized by the CACM Editorial Board when two of his recent papers appeared as CACM Research Highlights in the same issue, and a summary of his work on computer-aided Education was accepted to appear as a CACM article.

In summary, Dr. Gulwani is a highly motivated, creative, and inter-disciplinary researcher whose vision is to empower computer users around the world to be more productive and educated. His insights in using program synthesis to address problems in end-user programming and education will have deep and lasting influence.

2013 Lars Birkedal

Citation:

Lars Birkedal is a world leader in foundational programming languages research, and the pre-eminent researcher of his generation in the area of programming language semantics. His work, spanning a multitude of top journal and conference publications, has had significant impact in many areas. These include foundational type theory, compiler implementation, Milner’s bigraphical reactive systems, logics and models for relational parametricity, and verification technology for semantically complex languages.

Birkedal is a pioneer in “bringing semantics into the 21st century”: developing rigorous and scalable semantic and verification techniques to account for the needs and complexities of modern languages. Toward this end in particular, he has (a) made numerous advances to the theory and practice of region-based memory management, (b) made fundamental contributions to the theory of relational parametricity, which underlies our semantic understanding of abstract data types, and (c) developed higher-order separation logics and other powerful tools for the modular verification of realistic imperative, object-oriented, and concurrent programming patterns.

In short, Birkedal has tackled hard problems of paramount importance to the future of programming language research, and has made startling advancements across the board. He has done so both independently, via the research group he built up at the IT University of Copenhagen, and also through fruitful collaborations with an impressive network of international colleagues, thus setting an excellent example for other junior researchers.

2012 Shriram Krishnamurthi

Citation:

The SIGPLAN 2012 Robin Milner Young Researcher Award goes to Shriram Krishnamurthi, a prolific researcher who brings programming language theory to bear in many other disciplines, thus exposing its foundational value. His research contributions range from type soundness proofs for Java and influential extensions thereof, through foundational aspects of web programming, to model-driven development and empirical studies. The most important aspects of Krishnamurthi’s research are

  • that it cuts across multiple disciplines, including education, software engineering, formal methods and security, but always building on the firm ground of programming language theory;
  • its orientation towards practicality and applicability to standard platforms: programming systems for teaching, reactive web programming, executable JavaScript semantics, and analysis techniques for security policies;
  • that it has resulted not only in publications, but also in practical systems that are used in academia and industry; and
  • the clarity of its exposition and presentation.
  • Shriram is also an influential educator, reaching out beyond the university to infect school kids with algebraic thinking.

In summary, Shriram is an extraordinarily broad researcher, making sustained contributions in important and exciting areas, with a commitment to education that is ensuring that his ideas have even broader impact.