Student research that changed computing

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The Computing Consortium Community’s blog writes about a recently compiled list of students who, as part of their work as students, changed the direction of computing. It is a remarkable list, meant to provide ammo for those arguing for more funding of education.

I recommend you don’t read it if you haven’t already finished your graduate work — it will only depress  you. There are many, many notables on this list, but here are a few that jumped out at me.

Use of Boolean logic to model digital circuits: Claude Shannon at MIT. Shannon is better known for inventing information theory, but this work, his MIT Masters thesis, was a landmark. (1937)

Interactive computer graphics:
Ivan Sutherland at MIT. Sutherland’s Sketchpad system – his Ph.D. work – laid the groundwork for several decades of advances in computer graphics. Ed Catmull’s 1974 Ph.D. dissertation, supervised by Sutherland at the University of Utah, was another landmark contribution to the field, as was John Warnock’s 16-page 1969 University of Utah Ph.D. attacking the hidden surface problem. (1963)

Ethernet: Bob Metcalfe at Harvard. The engineering was done at Xerox PARC, but the invention and analysis of binary exponential backoff as an alternative to the fixedbackoff (and thus unstable) Aloha Network scheme was Metcalfe’s Ph.D. dissertation. (1973)

BSD Unix: Bill Joy at Berkeley, working with Bob Fabry and Domenico Ferrari. (1977)

The Connection Machine: Danny Hillis at MIT. Hillis co-founded the Thinking Machines Corporation while an MIT AI Lab Ph.D. student. (1983)

Linux: Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki. Torvalds was a second-year computer science student at the University of Helsinki when he launched the Linux open source operating system project, inspired by Andy Tanenbaum’s MINIX operating system and Richard Stallman’s GNU project. (1991)


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