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Sept. 24: Carnegie Mellon Computer Scientist Wins European Science Prize


Byron Spice                          

Anne Watzman

Carnegie Mellon Computer Scientist
Wins European Science Prize

Anastasia Ailamaki is One of 20 Young
Researchers To Receive Nobel-sized Award

PITTSBURGH — Anastasia Ailamaki, associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, is one of 20 scientists chosen for this year's highly selective European Young Investigator (EURYI) Awards.  

AilamakiThe EURYI program is designed to attract outstanding young scientists from around the world to create their own research teams at European research centers and includes five-year grants of 1 million to 1.25 million euros, comparable in monetary terms to the Nobel Prize. The recipients will be honored at a special ceremony Sept. 27 in Helsinki, Finland.

"It's very exciting," said Ailamaki, who joined Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Department in 2001. "Europe doesn't have many prizes of this magnitude, so winning it is a huge distinction."

Ailamaki will receive 1 million euros — almost $1.4 million — to establish a research team at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, where she has been a visiting professor since February.

"We are so happy and proud that Professor Ailamaki has won such a prestigious award," said Peter Lee, head of the Computer Science Department. "We've always considered Natassa to be one of our stars, and so her being selected as one of just 20 winners of one of Europe's most competitive awards for young scientists confirms what we've known all along.  We look forward to her return to Carnegie Mellon at the end of her sabbatical, with all of the great experiences and connections she has made in Europe."

Ailamaki's research focuses on database systems, and she is particularly interested in addressing the peculiar problems of large, scientific databases, such as those used for earthquake or astrophysics simulations. Switzerland, with its heavy concentration of research centers, is fertile ground for such work.

Research centers such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which operates the world's largest particle physics laboratory near Geneva, generate massive datasets. "We're talking tens of terabytes, easily," Ailamaki said. And these databases cannot be managed by conventional database software designed for the banking industry or for conventional data warehouses, she explained. So researchers often end up using outmoded software or are forced to write their own custom software for every project.

Ailamaki is developing methods that she hopes will improve the efficiency of a wide variety of scientific databases. But simply assessing the needs of scientists across many disciplines is challenging. "They all speak different (scientific) languages," she said, "and cross-disciplinary communication is challenging."

Nevertheless, Ailamaki is beginning to categorize the needs of scientists. Those in observation-based fields, for instance, demand databases that can answer queries efficiently, while simulation-based sciences have more intensive computational needs.

A native of Crete, Greece, Ailamaki received her bachelor's degree in computer science at the University of Patra, Greece, and master's degrees from the Technical University of Crete and the University of Rochester. She joined Carnegie Mellon after earning her doctorate in computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her projects at Carnegie Mellon have aimed at building systems to strengthen the interaction between database software and the underlying hardware and input/output devices.

Ailamaki received a Sloan Research Fellowship in 2005 and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2002.

For more information on EURYI, see

A photograph of Prof. Ailamaki is available on request.