Date Posted: 4/01/2019

CS Assistant Professor Adrian Sampson has been given a career award by the National Science Foundation for his work on “Type-Driven Heterogeneous Programming.” The NSF notes that “this award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.”

When asked about the significance of the award for him, Sampson replied: "The NSF feels like a real rite of passage for new faculty in our field. Of course, the award means a lot of research funding, but perhaps even more importantly, the award serves as a genuine validation of one's work by a panel of anonymous colleagues. Most people at esteemed places, such as Cornell, eventually do receive Career awards, but it often takes a while. Obviously, I'm surprised and gratified to receive the award so early in my career. My take-away: that senior researchers, whom I deeply respect, are giving me a vote of confidence, telling me 'you're on the right track, Adrian.' With this mind, I’m more excited than ever to pursue my research direction—and to meet these researchers’ high expectations."

The grant will enable Sampson to pursue the research outlined in the following abstract of the project:

“Computer hardware is becoming more heterogeneous: systems from smartwatches to datacenters augment traditional CPUs with Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), and single-application accelerators for efficiency. The programming tools for these heterogeneous systems, however, are lagging behind. Each new computing technology comes with a new special-purpose programming model or a best-effort attempt to compile legacy programming languages like ‘C’. This project designs systems that bridge the semantic gap between application semantics and hardware constraints. The project’s novelties are type-driven approaches to balancing productivity with control over low-level performance details. The project’s impacts are new programming languages for heterogeneous systems that avoid the usability pitfalls of best-effort C-language compilation, expose system-level concerns that dictate performance, and enable cross-device compiler optimizations. The project further seeks to include broadening access to education and research through interactive online lessons that target programming for heterogeneous architectures; creating a series of seminars aimed at increasing engagement in undergraduate research; and running workshops at computer architecture conferences for broadening participation of and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students. 

“This project focuses on two main approaches. The first approach lifts the latent constraints in one-off compilers for heterogeneous architectural backends into an intelligible type system. It addresses high-level synthesis (HLS) compilers for FPGAs, which attempt to translate a loosely-defined subset of C or C++ to hardware. The project aims to guarantee that well-typed programs have a realizable hardware implementation. The second approach embeds a higher level of abstraction into the type system for low-level computations to prevent bugs and enable new compiler optimizations. It focuses on linear algebra computations on GPUs. Such computations entangle abstract algebraic properties with low-level code. A new type system combines abstract types describing the linear algebra behavior with concrete types describing the GPU execution. The combined type system avoids subtle bugs and lets the compiler automatically generate correct-by-construction manipulations of linear algebra structures such as vector spaces.”

Update: read "Seven Assistant Professors Win NSF Early Career Awards" in the Cornell Chronicle, where Melanie Lefkowitz writes:

"With his award, Sampson will design new programming tools to meet current trends in computer hardware. Computer systems, from smartwatches to data centers, are increasingly relying on emerging forms of unconventional hardware, such as graphics processing units, but programming languages have lagged behind. Sampson’s project seeks to create new, more flexible and effective programming languages for heterogeneous computer systems, and develop online lessons, seminars and workshops."