Huffman Prize winner helps develop better tools for analyzing "big data"

joshua rosen
Senior Joshua Rosen, winner of the 2012 Huffman Prize. (Photo by C. Lagattuta)

When UC Santa Cruz computer scientist Neoklis Polyzotis first had Joshua Rosen as a student in one of his classes, he initially thought Rosen was a graduate student taking the class as a refresher. "Josh was head and shoulders above his classmates in terms of his understanding of the material, his ability to think critically, and his technical prowess," said Polyzotis, an associate professor of computer science in the Baskin School of Engineering.

In fact, Rosen was not a graduate student, but a junior transfer from Cabrillo College who happened to have an exceptional aptitude for computer science. Polyzotis promptly invited him to work on a research project, and before long Rosen was deeply involved in a collaborative project with researchers at UC Irvine and Yahoo Research to develop better tools for large-scale data processing. In addition to his productive engagement in this research, Rosen managed to rack up an impressive 15 A+ grades and four A's in his classes at UC Santa Cruz.

Rosen is the 2012 winner of the Huffman Prize, awarded annually to a Baskin School of Engineering graduating senior whose academic career at UCSC exhibits extraordinary creativity, depth of inquiry, and overall excellence. The Huffman Prize honors the memory and the legacy of its namesake, David A. Huffman, professor emeritus of computer science. "Joshua is a student that David Huffman would have loved to have in his class, and I'm sure Joshua would have loved learning from David," said Charlie McDowell, professor of computer science and associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the Baskin School of Engineering.

Rosen said the research project with Polyzotis enabled him to work with industry researchers on a real-world problem. The project addresses challenges involved in analyzing large volumes of data and could yield significant improvements in performance and efficiency for existing machine-learning algorithms. Rosen's role involved adding new capabilities to a complex software system called Hyracks, a platform for data-intensive computing developed at UC Irvine.

The collaboration with Yahoo Research gave the team access to real-world data and computing clusters. "It allowed us to see how the system we built would work in a real-world environment," Rosen said. "It was a great project to work on, and I'm really grateful for the opportunity UCSC provides to get involved in such research. To be recognized with the Huffman Prize is just icing on the cake."

According to Polyzotis, Rosen's work contributed directly to two technical papers submitted to top-tier computer science conferences.

"Overall, Josh exhibited great implementation skills, the ability to think and act independently, and the ability to think critically about his project," Polyzotis said. "Frankly, I am amazed that he was able to accomplish so much as an undergraduate student. This level of productivity is impressive even for a graduate student."

Rosen will begin graduate school at UC Berkeley in the fall.