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AT&T Labs Researcher to Receive ACM SIGACT Knuth Prize for Algorithm Innovations

David S. Johnson Named 2010 Knuth Prize Winner for Innovations that Impacted the Foundations of Computer Science

Association for Computing Machinery
Advancing Computing as a Science & Profession


Lance Fortnow

Virginia Gold



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NEW YORK, March 2, 2010 – The ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT) will present its 2010 Knuth Prize to David S. Johnson of AT&T Labs for his contributions to theoretical and experimental analysis of algorithms.  Johnson’s innovations helped lay the foundation for algorithms used to address optimization problems, which involve the process of finding the best solution from all feasible solutions.  In addition, Johnson made many contributions to the early development of NP-completeness theory, which helps identify those problems that are hard to solve efficiently. The Knuth Prize, named in honor of Donald Knuth of Stanford University who has been called the "father" of the analysis of algorithms, will be presented at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC) June 6-8, 2010, in Cambridge, MA, where Johnson will present the Knuth Prize Lecture. 

            Johnson’s research in approximation techniques to solve computational problems set up the basic theoretical framework and approach for searching for an “almost” optimal solution. His work over the years has addressed the approximation of many problems including bin packing, which is an NP-hard problem that applies to filling up containers, loading trucks with weight capacity, and creating file backup in removable media.  It also addresses TSP (the Traveling Salesman Problem), which can be useful in planning, logistics, and the manufacture of microchips, as well as DNA sequencing.  

            In addition to his theoretical analysis, Johnson has authored a set of highly influential papers on the experimental analysis of approximation algorithms.  This research established equally rigorous standards for experimental algorithms, which focus on implementations as the standard of value and provide the key to the transfer of research results from paper to production code. 

            Johnson is an acknowledged expert on NP-completeness, a reference to the hardest search problems.  His 1979 book, Computers and Intractability: A Guide to the Theory of NP-Completeness,  which he coauthored with Michael Garey, remains the standard reference on the topic.  Johnson has also written continuously on NP-completeness in his columns for the Journal of Algorithms and ACM Transactions on Algorithms

            An active leader in the theoretical computer science community, Johnson founded the ACM-SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) Symposium on Discrete Algorithms (SODA) and the ongoing series of DIMACS (Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science) Implementation Challenges.  He served on the ACM Council as Member-at-Large from 1996-2004, and chaired ACM SIGACT from 1987-1991.  He was editor of the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery (JACM) from 1983-1987, and ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software (TOMS) from 1991-2006.  He has also served as associate editor of ACM Transactions on Algorithms (TALG) since its founding in 2004. 

            Johnson, a Fellow of ACM, graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College and earned S.M. and Ph.D degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in mathematics.            

            The Knuth Prize is given every 18 months by ACM SIGACT and the IEEE Technical Committee on the Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science and includes a $5,000 award. 


About ACM

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.  



The ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory fosters and promotes the discovery and dissemination of high quality research in the domain of theoretical computer science.  The field includes algorithms, data structures, complexity theory, distributed computation, parallel computation, VLSI, machine learning, computational biology, computational geometry, information theory, cryptography, quantum computation, computational number theory and algebra, program semantics and verification, automata theory, and the study of randomness. Work in this field is often distinguished by its emphasis on mathematical technique and rigor. 


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