Barna Saha Celebrated as Harry E. Gruber Endowed Chair at UC San Diego

May 2, 2024
Barna Saha

Barna Saha, a computer scientist at University of California San Diego who spearheads a new $10 million multi-university research institute to tackle problems in theoretical foundations of data science, will be honored as the Harry E. Gruber Professor of Computer Science and Information Technologies Endowed Chair in a ceremony April 30.

Saha, who joined the Computer Science and Engineering Department (CSE) in the Jacobs School of Engineering as well as the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute (HDSI) in 2022, takes over the chairship formerly held by Distinguished Professor Emeritus Larry Smarr. 

She is the director of the National Science Foundation’s TRIPODS Institute for Emerging CORE Methods in Data Science (EnCORE); it is one of four TRIPODS centers in the nation. EnCORE is a $10 million dollar initiative with researchers from University of California, Los
Angeles, University of Pennsylvania and The University of Texas at Austin who band together to transform the core fundamentals of the rapidly emerging field of data science.

The ceremony will also celebrate the generosity of Harry E. Gruber, M.D. who jointly established the endowed chair with Brian Kenner (BS ’89) and Isaac Willis, M.D. nearly two decades ago to support a CSE faculty member in the Jacobs School. Kenner and Willis are each a former member of the Jacobs School’s Council of Advisors. 

“Professor Saha is a truly outstanding national leader in computer science research and education and an inspiration to many. I am honored to offer my congratulations to Barna for her many achievements that are reflected in this endowed chair,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and Special Adviser to the Chancellor. “Barna captures the interdisciplinary spirit of UC San Diego, with her deeply meaningful leadership, research, teaching and mentorship strengthening computer science, data science and beyond.”

Saha’s primary research focus is on theoretical computer science, specifically algorithm design and fine-grained complexity. She investigates questions of how to design fast algorithms when the date is changing; how to improve complexity of classical problems like edit distance and all pairs shortest paths; and how to improve efficiency of training and inference of popular Artificial Intelligence models. 

“Barna has made important breakthroughs in computational problems that have not had significant new results in decades,” said CSE Department Chair Sorin Lerner. “Her breakthroughs include better algorithms for RNA folding, fast matrix multiplications, all-pairs shortest paths, and large-scale data analysis, all of which have profound implications in practice.”

Rajesh Gupta, the director of Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute, said, “Besides leading center-scale research efforts, Professor Saha has devised algorithms capable of handling large-scale and changing data sets and their graph models. Barna’s life and academic trajectory is a source of inspiration for many and very deserving of the recognition by the Harry S. Gruber Endowed Chair.” 

“I am greatly honored to be appointed on such a prestigious endowed chairship. This will help me to expand my research group and devote time on some of the long-standing open questions in graph algorithms and fine-grained complexity,” said Saha. 

Saha is also deeply committed to outreach activities. She co-founded the Theoretical Computer Science (TCS) for All organization in 2018, and the TCS for All Rising Star Workshop in 2019. Since then, hundreds of students from under-represented groups have been able to attend flagship conferences in theoretical computer science and have been given a platform to showcase their research. She also spearheads several outreach activities through the EnCORE Institute, from K-12 workshops to summer schools to research experience for undergraduates from historically minority institutions. 

Saha received in 2019 the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) – the highest honor bestowed by the United States government to early-career outstanding scientists and engineers. She is also the recipient of the esteemed Sloan Fellowship.

As one of the most notable honors bestowed on university faculty, an endowed chair provides a dedicated source of funds, in perpetuity, facilitating novel research in the chair holder’s academic field. It also provides support for graduate students working with the chair.

-- By Katie E. Ismael and Kimberley Clementi