News Details | 22-Jun-2009

Rice computing pioneer wins IEEE Computer Society award

  • Director of NTU’s Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics wins computing society's prestigious W. Wallace McDowell Award

HOUSTON -- (June 22, 2009) -- Rice University computer scientist Krishna Palem, who also heads the Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics (ISNE) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, has won the prestigious 2008 W. Wallace McDowell Award for his pioneering contributions to the growing field of embedded computing.

The IEEE Computer Society's highest technical award and one of computing's most prestigious individual honors, the W. Wallace McDowell Award has a list of past winners that reads like a who's who of industry giants. They include Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore (1978); microprocessor inventor Federico Faggin (1994); World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee (1996); Lotus Notes creator and Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (2000); supercomputer pioneers Seymour Cray (1968), Gene Amdahl (1976) and Ken Kennedy (1995); and the architect of IBM's mainframe computer Frederick Brooks (1970).

"Krishna Palem continues a tradition of excellence in the highest international levels of computing and information technology at Rice University," said Rice Provost Eugene Levy. "Dr. Palem’s contributions, which are helping to vastly expand the benefits of ubiquitous embedded computing, follow in the footsteps of Rice's previous McDowell Award winner, Ken Kennedy, who helped to vastly extend the usability of computing languages. This award acknowledges Rice's continued international leadership in information technology."

Embedded computers are special-purpose microchips. Unlike the processors in desktop computers, embedded processors are designed to carry out dedicated tasks. Embedded processors are inside thousands of consumer and industrial products, including everything from modems and toys to automobiles and jet fighters.

Palem won the W. Wallace McDowell Award "for pioneering contributions to the algorithmic, compilation and architectural foundations of embedded computing."

"It is humbling to be in the company of this group of pioneers," said Palem, Rice's Ken and Audrey Kennedy Professor of Computing. "As much as this award recognizes the impact of research accomplished with generations of my students, it also heralds the maturation of embedded computing founded on scholarship, innovation and societal value."

Palem joined Rice's faculty in 2007, just a few months after Kennedy's untimely death from cancer. In late 2007, Palem announced the formation of ISNE with colleagues at NTU. A joint research initiative between Rice and NTU, ISNE aims to slash the design, production costs and, above all, the energy consumption of embedded microchips.

"We are very pleased to have a pioneer such as Dr. Palem leading our joint collaborative research with Rice," said NTU President Guaning Su. "The award aptly recognizes his international leadership in the area of embedded computing, which is central to the future of information technology."

In February 2008, Palem's "probabilistic" microchips -- a new design that trades off computational precision for energy savings -- were named to MIT Technology Review's coveted top 10 annual list of technologies that are most likely to "alter industries, fields of research and even the way we live."

The chips, dubbed "probabilistic CMOS," or PCMOS (pronounced PEE-cee-moss), piggyback on the "complementary metal-oxide semiconductor" (CMOS) technology that chipmakers already use. The first tests of PCMOS prototypes, which were published in February, found the chips used 30 times less electricity than today's best technology.

This spring, Palem unveiled plans for the I-slate, one of the first devices that will be based on PCMOS. The I-slate is an electronic version of the blackboard slates used by many Indian schoolchildren. It will use a visually based mathematics curriculum to let children learn by doing, regardless of their grade level or whether they have a full-time teacher. At a March meeting marking the 125th anniversary of the IEEE, the I-slate project was chosen as one of seven technologies the society believes "will have world-changing implications on the way humans interact with machines, the world and each other."

"Professor Palem is a global role model for all engineers and this award demonstrates his commitment to game-changing research and technology development," said Rice Dean of Engineering Sallie Keller-McNulty. "I’m particularly pleased to see this technology making an important contribution in a developing economy such as India."

For more information about the W. Wallace McDowell Award, see

The IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading organization of computing professionals. Founded in 1946 and the largest of the 39 societies of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Computer Society is dedicated to advancing the theory and application of computer and information-processing technology and is known globally for its computing standards activities. The IEEE Computer Society serves the information and career-development needs of today’s computing researchers and practitioners with technical journals, magazines, conferences, books, conference publications, certifications and online courses.

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Media Contacts:

Jade Boyd
Associate Director and Science Editor
Office of Public Affairs/News & Media Relations
Rice University
(office) 713-348-6778
(cell) 713-302-2447

Esther Ang
Manager, Corporate Communications Office
Nanyang Technological University
(office) +65-6790-6804
(cell) +65-9113-9654

Who Knew?
Located in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked one of America's best teaching and research universities. Known for its "unconventional wisdom," Rice is distinguished by its: size -- 3,001 undergraduates and 2,144 graduate students; selectivity -- 12 applicants for each place in the freshman class; resources -- an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 5-to-1; sixth largest endowment per student among American private research universities; residential college system, which builds communities that are both close-knit and diverse; and collaborative culture, which crosses disciplines, integrates teaching and research, and intermingles undergraduate and graduate work.

About Nanyang Technological University

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