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Profs Michal Lipson and Mihalis Yannakakis Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Apr 28 2020 | By Holly Evarts

Michal Lipson, Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of applied physics, and Mihalis Yannakakis, the Percy K. and Vida L. W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science, have both been named as members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. They are among 276 artists, scholars, scientists, and leaders in the public, non-profit, and private sectors elected to the Academy, which was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. Election to the Academy is a prestigious recognition of outstanding achievements in academia, the arts, business, government, and public affairs, and induction will take place at a ceremony in October.

“We are excited to see the considerable achievements of Professors Lipson and Yannakakis recognized with election to the 2020 Class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” said Mary C. Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “This well-deserved honor speaks to their long-time leadership as scholars and, importantly, raises awareness of their transformative research in nanophotonics and computational complexity, respectively - such diverse fields that are shaping our collective future.”

Michal Lipson (Photo Credit: John Abbott)

Lipson has been a pioneer in advancing the field of silicon photonics, a fundamental technology that uses optical rays to transfer data among computer chips and is now considered to be one of the most promising directions for solving major bottlenecks in microelectronics. She investigates the physics and applications of nanoscale photonic structures and is particularly interested in light-confining structures that can slow down, trap, enhance, and manipulate light.  

“It is truly an honor to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” Lipson says. “It is wonderful to see the photonics field being recognized."  

Lipson’s research is centered on areas where nanophotonics has a big impact, both fundamentally and technologically. Her main focuses include novel photonic materials and fabrication, silicon photonics and non-reciprocity, nano-magnetism and thermal control, nanophotonics for neuroscience, optomechanics, nonlinear and quantum optics, and sensing and optofluidics. Among her many discoveries is the first silicon photonics GHz modulator for transmitting electronic signals over large distances with low power. Her research interests are constantly evolving to keep up with important trends, and her Lipson Nanophotonics Group now includes expertise in areas ranging from imaging of the brain to energy recycling.  

Lipson, who joined Columbia Engineering in 2015, has received extensive honors, including election to the National Academy of Science, the IEEE Photonics Award, the NAS Comstock Prize in Physics, the Optical Society’s (OSA) R. W. Wood award, MacArthur Fellowship, Blavatnik Award, IBM Faculty Award, and the NSF Early Career Award. She holds more than 30 patents, has authored over 200 technical papers, and has received numerous awards and accolades for her work in the field. Since 2014 she has been named every year by Thomson Reuters as a top 1% highly cited researcher in the field of physics. She has held several leadership positions in the scientific community, including serving on the boards of the IEEE Photonics Society and OSA.

Mihalis Yannakakis

Yannakakis is renowned for his fundamental contributions to theoretical computer science, particularly in algorithms and computational complexity, and applications to other areas. He works on the theoretical foundations of computing, seeking to understand the inherent complexity of computational problems, and the power and limitations of methods for solving them. He has applied this principled algorithmic approach to problems from different areas.  

For example, he characterized the power of certain common approaches to optimization (based on linear programming), and proved that they cannot solve efficiently hard optimization problems like the famous traveling salesman problem. In the area of approximation algorithms, he defined with Christos Papadimitriou, The Donovan Family Professor of Computer Science, a complexity class that unified many important problems and helped explain why the research community had not been able to make progress in approximating a number of optimization problems.  

“I am very honored to join such a distinguished, historic body,” says Yannakakis. “I am grateful to all my collaborators and colleagues at the engineering school, and to the University for the great environment that it provides.”  

In the area of database theory, Yannakakis contributed in the initiation of the study of acyclic databases and of non-two-phase locking. In the area of computer aided verification and testing, he laid the rigorous algorithmic and complexity-theoretic foundations of the field. His interests extend also to combinatorial optimization and algorithmic game theory.  

For the significance, impact, and astonishing breadth of his contributions to theoretical computer science, Yannakakis was awarded the seventh Donald E. Knuth Prize in 2005. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and Academia Europaea; and a fellow of the ACM and of Bell Labs.  

Prior to joining Columbia in 2004, Yannakakis was head of the Computing Principles Research Department at Bell Labs and at Avaya Labs, and professor of computer science at Stanford University. He has served on the editorial boards of several journals, including as the past editor-in-chief of the SIAM Journal on Computing, and has chaired various conferences, including the IEEE Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science, the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, and the ACM Symposium on Principles of Database Systems.  

With the election of Lipson and Yannakakis, Columbia Engineering faculty elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences now numbers 13. The others are Christos Papadimitriou (2001), Mark Cane (2002), Alfred Aho (2003), Mary Boyce (2004), Aron Pinczuk (2009), Jeannette Wing (2010), Shree Nayar (2011), Renata Wentzcovitch (2013), Julia Hirschberg (2018), and Kathleen McKeown and Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic (2019).