Lydia E. Kavraki

Greek-American computer scientist Lydia Kavraki, a professor of bioengineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas, has been honoured with the ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award.

The award is presented to an individual selected for career contributions that have breadth within computer science, or that bridge computer science and other disciplines.

She was recognised for her “pioneering contributions to robotic motion planning, including the invention of randomised motion planning algorithms and probabilistic roadmaps, with applications to bioinformatics and biomedicine.”

This award has been given annually since 1994 and is accompanied by a prize of $10,000.

“This award to Lydia is the latest in a long list of awards she has received in recognition of the excellence of her work and her group’s work. She has built her entire stellar academic career here at Rice, working with Rice students, all of whom have gone to successful careers in academia or industry. If you really want to make it big, you can make it big here. Look no further than Lydia for a proof,” said Luay Nakhleh, J. S. Abercrombie Professor of Computer Science and of BioSciences and CS department chair.

Kavraki has published more than 240 peer-reviewed articles that have been cited more than 28,340 times. Her h-index is 71, according to Google Scholar, and she is co-author of the textbook Principles of Robot Motion, published by MIT Press.

“Lydia’s research has solved problems that for several years seemed beyond reach from a computational point of view. She has worked on problems that range from docking the space shuttle to the orbiting space station to planning for re-configurable robots. She is currently working with NASA on planning the motions of its Robonaut. Lydia has always sought to make her work accessible and usable,” said Moshe Vardi, the Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor in Computational Engineering and University Professor at Rice.

Kavraki’s contributions go beyond robotics to address problems underlying the functional annotation of proteins, the understanding of metabolic networks, and the investigation of molecular conformations and protein flexibility. She has contributed to problems that involve reasoning about the three-dimensional structure of biomolecules and their ability to interact with other biomolecules primarily for drug design and, more recently, for personalised cancer immunotherapy.

A native of Greece, Kavraki received her B.A. in CS from the University of Crete and her Ph.D. in CS from Stanford University. She joined the Rice faculty in 1997.

The ACM/AAAI award was established in 1993 to honour the memory of Allen Newell (1927-1992), a researcher in computer science and cognitive psychology at the RAND Corporation and Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, Tepper School of Business, and Department of Psychology.