Thursday, May 20, 2021 – by Aaron Aupperlee
Maria Florina “Nina” Balcan recently received the inaugural Cadence Design Systems Chair in Computer Science for the impact her work has had in her departments and across Carnegie Mellon University.
Balcan, a professor in the School of Computer Science’s Machine Learning and Computer Science Departments, was described as a passionate serial innovator whose work touched many aspects of machine learning. Her research focuses on learning theories, artificial intelligence, algorithmic economics, game theory and optimization.
“The most remarkable thing about Nina’s professional achievements is her research. It is distinguished by both its breadth and rigor,” said Roni Rosenfeld, head of the Machine Learning Department. “She’s made contributions to just about all of the disciplines of machine learning.”
Rosenfeld called Balcan one of CMU’s own. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from the University of Bucharest, Balcan came to CMU and completed her Ph.D. in 2008. She returned to the university six years later to become a professor.
Tom Mitchell, founder of the Machine Learning Department, said Balcan repeatedly moves on to new areas and new problems. She has worked to put theoretical foundations under many classical machine learning topics.
“But she’s gone beyond those areas to, for example, look in economics, at the question of how machine learning can be related to the pricing of items. She’s looked at privacy issues recently. She’s looked at automatic design of computer algorithms assisted by data,” Mitchell said. “She has a kind of fearless energy to go and tackle new problems repeatedly.”
Balcan said that while machine learning has developed over the past decade into a highly successful discipline that has impacted several fields, it is still growing.
“However, as the field of machine learning is evolving, new opportunities await for fundamentally new paradigms that could significantly broaden its impact and applicability across science, engineering and computing,” Balcan said. “The Cadence Design Systems Chair will enable me to work on these problems, and I’m very grateful for — and I would like to thank them for — their support.”
Cadence Design Systems is a leader in electronic design, producing electronic products for the computing, communications, automotive, mobile, aerospace and health care industries. Lip-Bu Tan, the company’s CEO, is a member of the CMU Board of Trustees and the School of Engineering Dean’s Council. The company and Tan and his wife, Ysa Loo, donated $6 million in 2019 to create the Cadence Design Systems and Tan Family Chairs.
Vyas Sekar, a faculty member in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in the College of Engineering, received the inaugural Tan Family Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Sekar has a courtesy appointment in the Computer Science Department and is affiliated with CyLab, where he co-directs the IoT@CyLab initiative.
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