First Woman Wins Turing Award, Nobel of Computing

The Association for Computing Machinery named Frances Allen the recipient of the 2006 A.M. Turing Award for a career full of contributions that it said "fundamentally improved the performance of computer programs in solving problems and accelerated the use of high-performance computing."

Allen is the first woman to receive the award, nicknamed "The Nobel Prize of Computing." Allen is a Fellow Emerita at IBM's  Watson Research Center, where she is credited with significant advances in program optimization, automatic program parallelization and other high performance computing techniques.

Allen has held a raft of university appointments during her career, including stints at New York University (1970-73); consulting professor at Stanford University and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley (1988-89); and Regents Lecturer at the University of California, San Diego (1997).

She was awarded honorary doctor of science degrees from the University of Alberta; Pace University; and from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She graduated from Albany State Teachers College--now the State University of New York at Albany--with a degree in mathematics. She received a master's degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan.

Ruzena Bajcsy, professor of Electrical and Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and the chair of ACM's Turing Award Committee, said Allen's "contributions have spanned most of the history of computer science (and) led to remarkable advances in compiler design and machine architecture that are at the foundation of modern high-performance computing."

She added that "it is interesting to note Allen's role in highly secret intelligence work on security codes for the organization now known as the National Security Agency, since it was Alan Turing, the namesake of this prestigious award, who devised techniques to help break the German codes during World War II."

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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