UBC lures top U.S. computer scientist

Professor aims to attract `great young minds'

by Andy Poon staff writer

A leading U.S. software researcher has been recruited to UBC to work in a breakthrough area of programming languages and software engineering thanks to a newly created $1.75-million research chair.

Prof. Gregor Kiczales has been named to the Chair in Software Design in the Computer Science Dept. The chair will be funded over the next five years by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Xerox Canada Ltd. and Vancouver-based Sierra Systems.

"We can score one brain gain for Canada with this announcement," says Indira Samarasekera, UBC's vice-president, Research. "Our long-term prosperity depends on our ability to develop the information technology component of our national economy. Partnerships between academic institutions and the private sector will be key to our success, and the support of our sponsors has made this chair possible."

An outstanding student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kiczales was recruited by MIT to work as a staff researcher before he finished his computer science degree about 20 years ago. From there he held a number of research positions in the Boston area before going on to spend 15 years at the renowned Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre where he was principal scientist.

"I had always wanted to go back to university and this was an opportunity to do it," says Kiczales.

Kiczales, 39, was an early pioneer of object-oriented programming which allows software to be designed in separate components and then later assembled into a single program.

But there are limitations to this as programmers can find the later stages of assembling the components difficult. Kiczales has solved this with a new aspect-oriented software programming language.

"UBC is an excellent place to pursue this research," says Kiczales. "We're going to do great work and attract great young minds in the process."

A new Software Practices Lab will be created to develop practical techniques to make real-world software development easier and more productive. And as part of the chair, four or five research associate positions for graduate students will be created.

Kiczales says he's excited about being part of "a strong department with some really first-rate people," having collaborated for a number of years with UBC computer scientist Gail Murphy.

In addition to his research and teaching duties at the university, Kiczales will continue to lead the team that developed aspect-oriented programming at Xerox.