Martha Kim, associate professor of Computer Science at Columbia University and director of the ARCADE Lab, has been named a recipient of the annual Borg Early Career Award(BECA). Conferred by the Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W), the award honors Anita Borg, the founder of the Borg Institute and an early CRA-W member committed to increasing the participation of women in computing research. The award is bestowed annually to one or two women in computer science or engineering, who like Kim, have made early-career research contributions and at the same time have committed themselves to encouraging young women to enter the computing field.
Kim’s research contributions are in the area of computer architecture, where creative solutions are needed if computing power is to keep pace with increasing demands, especially those posed by big data sets. Packing and operating more transistors on a single chip—the previous solution—no longer works due to the problem of heat buildup. Further computing advances require efficiency at every aspect of the chip, whether that means using new types of parallel processing, employing specialized circuits called accelerators, or introducing entirely new computer architectures. Kim’s research explores all of these solutions, each one highly complex in its own way.
She focuses particularly at the point where hardware and software meet, looking at how characteristics of one may be leveraged to improve operation of the other, thus realizing efficiencies not possible when each is examined in isolation. Accelerators she designed for database processing—specifically optimized for the row, column, table abstractions of database operations—resulted in 70x throughput improvements while saving three orders of magnitude in energy compared to traditional software database approaches. Her architectural designs include an intelligent data flow that optimizes resource usage by having processing units distributed across the chip perform calculations as their inputs are ready.
The quality of her research is reflected in the number of prestigious venues that have featured her work (including ISCA, ASPLOS, and HPCA). For three straight years (2013, 2014, 2015), papers she co-authored have been among the 10-12 selected each year by the IEEE to be “Top Picks in Computer Architecture.” Her research has also won her numerous awards, including the 2013 Rodriguez Family Award, the 2015 Edward and Carole Kim Faculty Involvement Award, and a 2013 NSF CAREER award. In July, she will serve as Program Co-Chair at the IEEE International Symposium on Workload Characterization.
Equally impressive to her research is Kim’s impact on advancing women in computing research. In making the award, CRA-W cited an expansive portfolio of outreach efforts: participating in high-school oriented conferences such as Code Like A Girl; reviewing and revising her high school’s approach to STEM education; acting as a faculty co-advisor for the Artemis Project, a summer school for rising 9th and 10th grade girls from local, underserved schools. Kim also devotes considerable time to performing service to the research community through program committees, journal reviewing, and conference organizing activities.
One tangible result of Kim’s outreach to women: her first two graduated PhD students are both women as are two-thirds of her current doctoral advisees.
Julia Hirschberg, chair of Columbia’s Computer Science Department, says the following of Kim. “Martha is an outstanding researcher recognized by her peers as being among the most innovative in her field. She is passionate about her research, and passionate also in her commitment to increasing the participation of women in computing. She is poised to become a leader in the field of computer systems.”
When as a Houston high school student Deborah Owolabi ’16 enrolled in a summer engineering program, a professor posed a question she never forgot: if humans were limited to just three industries, which three are most essential for survival? The room quickly settled on the food industry and medicine, but students were stumped as to the third.
“Civil engineering,” the professor answered. “Since the dawn of time, people have been civil engineers, building homes and shelters and constructing roads to develop surrounding areas.”
Knowing at that moment she was destined to become a civil engineer, Owolabi was soon drawn to Columbia by the interdisciplinary focus. At SEAS, she has worked closely with Professors George Deodatis and Shiho Kawashima and Lecturer Julius Chang, learning to integrate the theory and practice of building complex structures. She’s also served as a work-study intern at the IEOR Department, her “second home,” for three years.
“It’s exciting to get to partake in the building of something that never was, and being able to drive past projects that I’ve worked or interned on is absolutely amazing to me,” Owolabi says. “Many times engineering is only seen for including science, technology, and math, but being an engineer, and for me a civil engineer, incorporates art, beauty, and aesthetics.”
Owolabi and 10 other civil engineering seniors recently completed their senior design project, a proposed network arch bridge including all components of its design, construction, and impacts on all levels. The project was on display at the School’s annual Senior Design Expo, held on May 5.
Outside the classroom, Owolabi has served in senior positions on the boards of the National Society of Black Engineers at Columbia and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., on and off campus. She has also performed extensively with the Columbia University Gospel Choir.
Recently named a SEGUE Scholar by the National Science Foundation, Owolabi will remain at Columbia Engineering for another year, conducting research with Kawashima and earning her master’s degree in construction engineering management. In the longer term she plans to enter industry and earn an MBA, aiming for projects that are “purposeful” and improve people’s lives.
“Getting an engineering degree from this school is not a small feat,” Owolabi says. “All the work and stress have prepared me to enter the industry knowing that I have the ability to learn, to work on teams, and to strive for excellence in everything I do.”