Ada Yonath

Shafi Goldwasser

Turing Award Winner and Nobel Laureate With Ties to MCS Receive Honorary Degrees

At Carnegie Mellon’s 121st Commencement, Dean Rebecca Doerge stood on the stage and presented the MCS students set to graduate “from the best college of science in the cosmos.” Among those cheering were the more than 300 recipients of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from MCS and its affiliated programs and some very notable guests.

Seated nearby Doerge on the stage were two women with close ties to the Mellon College of Science — Turing Award winner Shafi Goldwasser and Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath. Earlier in the ceremony the two women received honorary Doctor of Science and Technology degrees from the university.

Goldwasser earned her bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from MCS in 1979. Coming back to the university meant coming back to the place where she first stepped out on her own and was exposed to many things that would lead her to her esteemed career in computer science.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Goldwasser completed her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is now the director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing and professor of computer science.

Goldwasser won the Association for Computing Machinery’s Turing Award in 2012, the highest honor in computer science given to an individual. She is the co-inventor of probabilistic encryption, the gold standard for security for data encryption, and the co-inventor of zero-knowledge proofs, a key tool in the design of cryptographic protocols. She has also made significant contributions in the fields of complexity and number theory.

“Being a math major is the best preparation for computer science,” Goldwasser said later in the day at the Department of Mathematical Sciences diploma ceremony.

Yonath was a postdoctoral fellow at the Mellon Institute just prior to the merger between Mellon Institute and Carnegie Tech that created Carnegie Mellon University. She came to the Mellon Institute after completing her Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Later in her career she returned to the Weizmann Institute, where she now directs the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly and is the Martin S. and Helen Kimmel Professor of Structural Biology.

Yonath won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her pioneering studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. In her research, she mapped the position of each and every one of the quarter of a million atoms in the ribosome, uncovering how it functions at the atomic level.

Speaking at the Department of Chemistry’s diploma ceremony, Yonath had one piece of advice to give to the graduating students.

“Don’t look for advice. Do what you feel is good for you. [Something] that you can contribute, that you can find yourself, that you can love.”

♦ by Jocelyn Duffy