European Universities Honor Snir, Padua for Contributions to Parallel Computing, HPC

1/11/2019 By David Mercer, Illinois Computer Science

The École Normale Supérieure de Lyon honored Snir for decades of achievements; the Universidad de Valladolid recognized Padua as a parallel computing pioneer.

Written by By David Mercer, Illinois Computer Science

Two European universities have recognized Illinois Computer Science’s strength in parallel and high-performance computing, awarding honorary doctorates to Professors Marc Snir and David Padua.

The École Normale Supérieure de Lyon in Lyon, France, awarded Snir with an honorary doctorate for “academic achievements in the
Professor Marc Snir, right, accepts congratulations from ENS de Lyon President Jean-Francois Pinton.
Professor Marc Snir, right, accepts congratulations from ENS de Lyon President Jean-Francois Pinton.
field of parallel and high-performance computing.”

And the Universidad de Valladolid in Valladolid, Spain, awarded an honorary doctorate to Padua, calling him a “pioneer in the study of the problems associated with parallel computing.”

For Snir, the Michael Faiman Professor, being recognized by the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon is a deep honor, but also bittersweet.

“You usually receive this award when you are at the end of your career. And indeed, I announced that I plan to retire in July,” Snir said. “So there is some amount of melancholy.”

But Snir said he also looks back on a career in high performance computing that is coming full circle, turning to what he believes will be an exciting period of innovation that resembles his early days in the field.

“When Moore’s Law started giving us this very regular improvement in the performance of commodity technology and large quantities of PCs, cell phones, and laptops, what have you, basically supercomputers became clusters of commodity nodes. And I think that the cycle now is closing,” he said, referring to the impending end of Moore’s Law. “Now we have to go back to fairly unique, custom-built machines.”

“It’s unclear where it’s going to go,” he said. “So we’re back at a time where it’s not an incremental walk on a path which is well defined, but may require new breakthroughs. … We really need invention.”

At the November ceremony to award Snir’s degree, ENS de Lyon President Jean-François Pinton praised Snir and his contributions to computer science.

"Considered by his peers as one of the leaders in parallel algorithms, programming models, and architectures, Marc Snir has brought major contributions to these three areas,” Pinton said. “Tonight's ceremony will allow us to give the highest French diploma to a researcher whose work is widely recognized by the international scientific community.”

Padua, the Donald Biggar Willett Professor in Engineering, said his 2017 degree from the Universidad de Valladolid was satisfying in part because it reflected his long history of interaction with researchers from Spain. The country has been a hub of parallel-computing research.
Professor David Padua delivers an address after receiving his honorary doctorate.
Professor David Padua delivers an address after receiving his honorary doctorate.

“They had a large community of people working in parallel computing,” Padua said. “That’s how they got to know me.”

Professor Diego R. Llanos, who introduced Padua at the ceremony and helped push through the honor, praised Padua not only for his technical prowess and contributions to the field, but also for his willingness to collaborate, guide, and help.

“His respectful attitude, as well as his willingness to listen and give advice, distinguishes him even among those who have the (timber) of a leader,” Llanos said. “This quality elevates him to the point of being today the sage to whom all come to seek advice. His great generosity and the fact that he never says ‘no’ to help is added to his long list of qualities.”

Padua, too, said the occasion gave him a chance to reflect on his field, where it’s been, and where it is headed.

“You live through all that, right? Now that you sit down and consciously look at the thing, you realize, first, how much things have changed in the last 35 years. It’s really impressive,” Padua said. “Back then it was a niche area, a small community of people doing research. Now, it’s ubiquitous. Everything is parallel computing --from Nvidia GPUs that are used for graphics in most machines to multicores.

“There are still a number of important problems to be solved, but the technology, the approach is now the norm.”

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This story was published January 11, 2019.