First Woman Selected for Top Computer Science Award
The Association for Computing Machinery has named Frances E. Allen the winner of the 2006 A.M. Turing Award for her work in computer science. Allen’s research has helped improve computer capacity for problem-solving and has enhanced the use of high-performance computing. Named for the British mathematician Dr. Alan M. Turing, the award is considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in computing and gets financial backing from Intel. Allen is the first woman to receive the award, which also comes with a $100,000 prize.
An IBM fellow emerita at the T.J. Watson Research Center, Allen has spent most of her career as a research scientist for IBM. She has also had stints as a professor and lecturer at a number of higher education institutions, including New York University, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
IBM officials say Allen’s chief accomplishments include “contributions to the theory and practice of program optimization, which translates the users’ problem-solving language statements into more efficient sequences of computer instructions.” She has also helped produce advances in the use of high-performance computers for solving problems such as weather forecasting, DNA matching and national security functions.
“Her contributions have spanned most of the history of computer science, and have made possible computing techniques that we rely on today in business and technology,” says
Dr. Ruzena Bajcsy, the chair of the Turing Award Committee. “It is interesting to note Allen’s role in highly secret intelligence work on security codes for the organization now known as the National Security Agency, since it was Alan Turing, the namesake of this prestigious award, who devised techniques to help break the German codes during World War II.”
In 1957, Allen joined the T. J. Watson Research Center to teach FORTRAN, then a cutting-edge computer programming language, to IBM scientists. FORTRAN allowed engineers and scientists at the time to write programs that resembled the mathematical formulas on which they relied. Allen was among the pioneers who addressed the potential for high-performance computers.
In 1989, Allen became the first woman named as an IBM Fellow. In 2000, IBM created the Frances E. Allen Women in Technology Mentoring Award, naming her as its first recipient. Allen is an advisory council member of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, which seeks to boost the participation of women in technology fields. The ACM will present Allen with the Turing Award at the group’s annual awards banquet on June 9 in San Diego.
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