Skip to main content

How does a distinguished professor who has made seminal contributions to the field of theoretical computer science (TCS) celebrate his 60th birthday? If you’re Vijay Vazirani, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science in the Donald Bren School of ICS, you attend a conference workshop held in your honor, organized by some of your former students.

Naveen GargSamir Khuller and Aranyak Mehta — all former Ph.D. students of Vazirani — have put together “TCS: Looking into the Future — A Workshop to Celebrate Vijay Vazirani’s 60th Birthday.” They’ve co-located the workshop with STOC 2018 TheoryFest: 50th Annual ACM Symposium on the Theory of Computing. According to Mehta, now a research scientist at Google, “Vazirani cares deeply about the welfare of each of his students and puts in tremendous personal effort to help each one excel at their work and succeed.” Vazirani advised Mehta at Georgia Tech, and he advised Garg at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and Khuller at Cornell University.

“We are all excited to get together and celebrate his accomplishments,” says Khuller, who is now a professor and distinguished scholar teacher at the University of Maryland. Khuller received his Ph.D. in parallel graph algorithms and graph connectivity, noting that working with Vazirani was “really intense, in a terrific way.” He says Vazirani has a “unique ability to identify interesting problems and uncover hidden gems, even in well-mined areas.” He thus learned from Vazirani how to ask interesting questions, identify key insights and write with clarity. “He had immensely high expectations, and I attribute that key ‘requirement’ to my overall success.”

Vazirani similarly attributes his own success to his mentors. “I was fortunate to have great mentors throughout my early years: Len Adleman and Adi Shamir while I was an undergrad at MIT, Manuel Blum and Richard Karp while I was a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, and Michael Rabin and Les Valiant while I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard — all are Turing Laureates!” Now, Vazirani extends his gratitude to those he has mentored as well: “I am also very fortunate to have a stellar family of Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows, each one a fine personality in their own right,” he says. “The workshop, organized by them, is a high honor, and I wish to thank them and the rest of the participants profusely.”

The workshop will feature 30-minute talks related to TCS and its contributions in areas such as quantum computing, computational biology, cryptography and computational neuroscience. The discussions will touch on how these and future advances will influence society via search engine technologies, e-commerce, secure communications and DNA sequencing. The goal of the workshop is to bring together TCS pioneers — including Adleman, Blum and Karp, among others — to speak about their vision for the future, while highlighting the fact that what ties the various speakers together is their association with Vazirani. Through the years, Vazirani has made foundational contributions to graph matching theory, complexity theory, approximation algorithms, randomized algorithms, algorithmic game theory, online ad auctions and the computability of market equilibria.

After these talks, several of Vazirani’s former students and postdocs will present personal reflections, noting his influence on their lives and research.

The workshop will take place on June 29 from 1­-4 p.m. at the Omni Hotel at California Plaza in Los Angeles. Early registration for STOC 2018 is open through June 1.

— Shani Murray