Former Dean Zvi Galil Named a Top 10 Most Influential Computer Scientist in the Past Decade

A leading scientist in the design and analysis of computer algorithms, Galil served as Columbia Engineering Dean from 1995 to 2007

Mar 18 2021 | By Holly Evarts

Zvi Galil, Dean Emeritus of Columbia Engineering and Julian Clarence Levi Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Methods and Computer Science, has been named the seventh most influential computer scientist over the past decade by Academic Influence. A widely respected theoretical computer scientist, Galil was chair of the department of computer science from 1989 to 1995 and served as dean of the school from 1995 to 2007.

Among his many achievements as dean was the creation of the biomedical engineering department in 2000. The department has rapidly grown from a small group of dedicated founders into a dynamic department making field-changing breakthroughs and now ranks in U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 biomedical engineering departments.

“I worked at Columbia for 25 years, a period that was the best in my life,” Galil said. “I still have many friends among the faculty and alumni with whom I’ve kept in touch over the years.”

Galil was recognized by Academic Influence, a college ranking system that uses artificial intelligence technology to search massive databases and measure the impact of work by individuals affiliated with colleges and universities throughout the world, for both his leadership skills and his research impact, particularly in the areas of algorithms, computational complexity, and cryptography. Born in Tel Aviv, he earned his BSc and MSc degrees in applied mathematics from Tel Aviv University in 1970 and 1971, respectively. He received his PhD in computer science from Cornell University in 1975.

Most recently he served as dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing from 2010 to 2019, where he established Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) program. Since its founding in 2014, OMSCS has grown to an enrollment of more than 10,000 students, making it the largest computing master’s program in the country. OMSCS significantly reduced the cost of obtaining an advanced degree and made it available to populations underserved by institutions of higher learning. It has been highly praised, including by President Barack Obama, as an effective means to address the shortage of STEM workers and to manage the costs of a higher education degree.

A leading scientist in the design and analysis of computer algorithms, Galil has focused his research interests on the design and analysis of algorithms and computational complexity. He invented the terms “stringology,” which is a subfield of string algorithms, and “sparsification,” a technique to replace a dense graph with a sparse graph. Sparsification has led to faster algorithms, and Galil and others have used it to speed up graph algorithms.

Many of Galil’s algorithms are the fastest at solving a particular kind of problem or use the smallest amount of computer memory to find a solution. He has collaborated with scientists in a broad range of fields, including biology, mathematics, and statistics, to help devise new ways to attack difficult problems.

A prolific writer with over 200 papers to his credit, Galil is a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Before the pandemic, Galil gave dozens of talks across the globe about OMSCS and lessons learned from the program. He is continuing to give presentations, now online. On Monday, March 22, he will give a keynote lecture to the iConference (the conference of the iSchools). On Monday, March 29, he is presenting a public webinar and a private roundtable discussion with academic leaders in the Netherlands: From Education Revolution to Massive Success « Studyportals Academy ».

“I have been extremely fortunate to initiate and to lead the creation of OMSCS, and that its high quality and low price have enabled many—16,000 so far—to fulfill their aspirations and improve their lives,” Galil said.