Ian Foster Receives Charles Babbage Award

March 26, 2019

Ian Foster, director of Argonne’s Data Science and Learning division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and an Argonne Distinguished Fellow, has received the 2019 IEEE Computer Society Charles Babbage Award.  The award recognizes Foster’s ​“outstanding contributions in the areas of parallel computing languages, algorithms, and technologies for scalable distributed applications.”

The award consists of a certificate and a $1,000 honorarium and an invitation to present a talk at the annual IEEE International Parallel and Distributed Processing Symposium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 20-24, 2019. 

“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” Foster said. ​“I’ve always been fascinated with how high-performance computing can transform lives, enabling new discoveries in areas from genomics and astronomy to global economics.” 

Foster has a distinguished research record in high-performance computing. His early research focused on new languages and mechanisms for parallel programming.  An early product of this work was Strand, for which he (with a colleague) received the British Computer Society’s award for technical innovation.  With his colleagues, he laid the theoretical foundations and developed the technologies for grid computing.  He spearheaded the development of the Globus Toolkit, providing the tools for resource sharing in early grid environments, and the Globus service and platform, used today by thousands of organizations for secure, reliable data movement and management; both efforts won an R&D 100 award. 

Grid computing paved the way for cloud computing, an area that Foster (and his colleague) addressed in the book ​“Cloud Computing for Science and Engineering,” covering topics including data management, and computing in the cloud, security services, and machine learning. 

Foster also has been involved in enabling distributed computing for the petascale era and beyond.  For example, he directed the DOE-funded Center for Enabling Distributed Computing, which helps scientists transfer enormous quantities of data and manage numerous shared resources in a petascale environment; and he currently is director of the Co-Design Center for Online Data Analysis and Reduction at the Exascale (CODAR), funded by the DOE Exascale Computing Project.

Foster was the long-time director of the Computation Institute, a joint initiative of the University of Chicago and Argonne for scientists pursuing multidisciplinary research.  Under his leadership, the institute expanded into high-impact data-intensive areas, including biomedical informatics and computational economics. 

This research and development work has resulted in numerous honors for Foster, including the Global Information Infrastructure Next Generation award, the British Computer Society’s Lovelace Medal, R&D Magazine’s Innovator of the Year, the Euro-Par Achievement Award, and the IEEE Computer Society Tsutomu Kanai award.

“Ian’s visionary research has laid the foundation for significant advances in scientific computing and computational sciences,” said Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director of Argonne’s Computing, Environment and Life Sciences directorate. ​“I’m confident he’ll continue to push the boundaries of data science and artificial intelligence to enable new scientific discoveries.”

Foster obtained his Ph.D. in computer science from Imperial College, United Kingdom. He holds honorary doctorates from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and from CINVESTAV, Mexico.  He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the British Computer Society.

The IEEE-CS Charles Babbage Award was established in memory of Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer.  The award, established in 2016, recognizes significant contributions in the field of parallel computation, including algorithms, applications, theory, and technologies.