Al Aho and Toni Pitassi Elected to the NAS

National Academy of Sciences recognizes Aho and Pitassi for their distinguished research in computer science

May 09 2022 | By Holly Evarts
Al Aho and Toni Pitassi

Alfred V. Aho, Lawrence Gussman Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, and Toniann Pitassi, Jeffrey L. and Brenda Bleustein Professor of Engineering

Alfred V. Aho, Lawrence Gussman Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, and Toniann Pitassi, Jeffrey L. and Brenda Bleustein Professor of Engineering, have both been elected as members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), for “their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.” They join a cohort of 120 members and 30 international members announced today by the NAS.

"We are very proud to see the groundbreaking work by computer scientists Al Aho and Toni Pitassi recognized in such a significant way,” said Columbia Engineering Dean Shih-Fu Chang. “Al has revolutionized the field of programming language and Toni has been a pioneer in the fields of computational and proof complexity. They join a distinguished group of several Columbia Engineering faculty already members of the National Academy of Sciences and exemplify the broad range and wide reach of our research at Columbia Engineering.”

Alfred V. Aho

Aho, who won the 2020 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) A.M. Turing Award, known informally as the “Nobel Prize of computing,” is renowned for his work on fundamental algorithms and theory that underlie programming language implementation and for synthesizing these results and those of others in highly influential books that educated generations of computer scientists. Before joining Columbia’s computer science department in 1995, Aho spent more than 30 years at Bell Labs, ultimately becoming the Vice President of the Computing Sciences Research Center, the laboratory that invented UNIX, C, and C++.

Aho received his BS in engineering physics from the University of Toronto in 1963 and earned his Master’s and PhD degrees in electrical engineering/computer science from Princeton University in 1967. At Columbia, he received the Great Teacher Award for 2003 from the Society of Columbia Graduates. In 2014 he was again recognized for his teaching excellence by winning the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award from the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association./p>

His many honors include the IEEE John von Neumann Medal and the NEC C&C Foundation C&C Prize. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of Canada. He is also a fellow of ACM, IEEE, Bell Labs, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Toniann Pitassi

Pitassi came to Columbia Engineering in 2021, where she joined the computer science department’s Theory Group and the Machine Learning Group. Her research focuses on computational complexity theory, on what the inherent limitations are on the resources (time, space, randomness) required to solve fundamental computational problems. She has also worked extensively in communication complexity which studies how much information must be communicated between two or more players in order to compute a joint function of their inputs. Her research is also focused on fairness in AI and how to address biased data sources.

Before she joined Columbia, Pitassi served as the Bell Canada Chair in Information Systems at the University of Toronto, from 2001 to 2021. She received her BS and MS from Pennsylvania State University in 1985, followed by a PhD from the University of Toronto in 1992. After postdoctoral work at UCSD, Pitassi served on the faculties of the University of Pittsburgh (in mathematics with a joint appointment in computer science), and the University of Arizona (in computer science).

Pitassi is an ACM Fellow, a recipient of the 2021 European Association for Theoretical Computer Science Research Award, a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research research chair, and a research lead at the Schwartz-Reisman Institute for Technology and Society. She currently holds a five-year appointment as visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Columbia Engineering NAS Members

In addition to Aho and Pitassi, other Columbia Engineering faculty elected to the NAS include Michal Lipson, Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of applied physics (2019), Columbia Engineering Professor Mihalis Yannakakis, Percy K. and Vida L. W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science (2018), and Christos Papadimitriou, The Donovan Professor of Computer Science (2009).

National Academy of Sciences

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine—provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.