The Theory Group recently hosted a three-day workshop in honor of Professor Mihalis Yannakakis’ 70th birthday.
The workshop, dubbed Mihalis Fest, invited 18 computer science researchers and professors who gave talks about the various research areas that Yannakakis’ work has strongly influenced. Among the speakers were Professor Toniann Pitassi and Turing Award winner Jeffrey Ullman, who was Yannakakis’ PhD advisor at Princeton University.
“Mihalis is universally recognized as one of the true giants of our field. He’s made major contributions all over the intellectual map of theoretical computer science, in too many areas to list. He’s also a much-beloved figure in the research community, whose wisdom and kindness have impacted countless colleagues and students,” said Professor Rocco Servedio. “The CS department was delighted to host a celebratory workshop in honor of his milestone birthday!”
Professor Christos Papadimitriou closed out the workshop and shared how he and Yannakakis first met while PhD students at Princeton. Said Papadimitriou, “I introduced computer science theory to Mihalis. I should’ve retired after that accomplishment.”
Papadimitriou and Yannakakis have collaborated on many papers over the years, and their 1988 paper, “Optimization, Approximation, and Complexity Classes,” introduced a whole range of new complexity classes and notions of approximation that continue to be studied to this day. They are also good friends, and colleagues have noted that the two hardly need to talk but understand each other instantly. “At one point, we started to look alike, too,” joked Papadimitriou.
Many presenters, plus former and current PhD students, shared personal stories of their time working with Yannakakis. Their tributes showed a common theme: how Yannakakis is a brilliant computer scientist who also knows how to support and nurture those around him.