Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Jean-Baptiste Tristan, an associate professor in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Computer Science Department, is among seven co-recipients of the 2021 Association for Computing Machinery Software System Award for contributions to groundbreaking research and practical applications that impact everyday users of technology.

Tristan shared the award with French and German colleagues for the development of CompCert, the first practically useful software that was developed not by writing its code but by extracting the set of instructions from the software’s mathematical proof of existence, resulting in an error-free construction.

According to ACM, the award, which bears a $35,000, IBM-provided prize, recognizes developers of a software system that has “lasting influence, reflected in contributions to concepts, in commercial acceptance, or both.”

“Although the profound correspondence between computer programs and mathematical proofs had been understood since the 1960s, the difficulty of engineering software this way had limited its impact to toy examples,” explained Tristan, who joined Boston College in August of 2020 after serving as a visiting lecturer at Harvard University and stints at Oracle Labs in Burlington, Mass.  “When it was introduced in 2005, CompCert signaled a major advance for the possibility of engineering error-free software by the extraction from mathematical proofs.”

CompCert continues as a research project at the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology, and is available under commercial and noncommercial licenses. Other researchers build upon CompCert, and multiple corporations use it for safety-critical applications.

“Naturally, we’re delighted to see our colleague receive such a prestigious honor,” said Computer Science Department Chair Howard Straubing. “This richly deserved award for highly influential research is one more sign of the steadily rising profile of the Computer Science faculty at Boston College.”

In April 2021, Tristan and co-principal investigator Joseph Tassarotti, an assistant professor in BC’s Computer Science Department, received a $963,189 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Computing and Communication Foundations to improve the quality of artificial intelligence software through probabilistic programming languages, a core tool for the development of AI applications.

ACM, founded in 1947 and based in New York City, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, comprised by nearly 100,000 computing educators, researchers, professionals, and students.

Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | May 2022