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Earlier this year, UCLA was ranked No. 1 among U.S. public universities in the 2017-18 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and No. 12 worldwide overall in the Academic Ranking of World Universities compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The Computer Science Department within UCLA similarly shares such accolades, with four of the department’s researchers – Lixia Zhang, Stan Osher, Judea Pearl, and Mani Srivastava – ranking in the top 100 computer scientists in the US. These computer scientists are ranked by H-Index, a widely used numerical indicator of how productive and influential a researcher is.

“I’m lucky [to achieve this ranking],” said Lixia Zhang, one of the top-ranked CS professors. “I jumped into the internet research and development effort early on – that is the main reason I [received] this honor. In fall 1980, when I was a M.S. student at Cal State LA, I saw in the campus bookstore a book titled `Protocols and Technique for Data Communication Networks’, edited by Franklin Kuo. I picked it up and read through the first chapter by Vint Cerf, `Packet Communication Technology’ [without stopping]. Right there and then I decided to work on building computer networks as my career.”

Zhang’s research interests include internet architecture design, network protocol designs, and securing large-scale and open systems. Her early work revolved around her curiosity about network protocol design, but more recently, her interests have shifted more towards internet architecture design.

“The first paper I ever published has a rather plain title, `Why TCP Timers Don’t Work Well’, which received SIGCOMM 1986 Best Student Paper Award. This paper was [written] out of my curiosity: in the early 80’s, many people in my research group… [were complaining that] the TCP, a reliable data transport protocol still used by most of today’s applications, did not seem to be able to set the retransmission timer right – it expired either too early or too late. The timer expiring too early means that a packet is delayed, but not lost, in the delivery, so the retransmitting it a waste; too late means that a packet is lost, but the sender waited too longer before resending it. I thought hard about [this problem] and [was able to develop] a totally different approach to the problem,” said Zhang.

In the early 90’s, Zhang designed and authored her most cited work, RSVP, which is a signaling protocol for the internet to reserve network resources and enable running internet applications to gain quality of service. Despite the popularity of RSVP, though, Zhang considers her more recent project – Named Data Networking (NDN) – as the most important research project she’s tackled to date.

“Since 2010, I have been solely focusing on the NDN design and development – NDN sketches out a blueprint of a new internet protocol architecture…[which], put simply, proposes to change how the internet runs,” Zhang said. “Although the internet looks like magic to many people, it only performs a very simple task: shipping data to where it’s needed. [Right now], doing this requires one to name the destinations to ship the data to, [which] is how today’s Internet Protocol (IP) works. [But, one can also] name the data so that whoever wants the data can ask for it by that name, and this is how NDN works,” Zhang explained. “This allows for the network service to better match applications, adds security to the network design, and essentially takes advantages of technology advances to provide data delivery that is fundamentally better than what IP can do today.”

Zhang attributes her passion towards computer science to her interest in technology and computers in general. “At the beginning, I was simply excited by the idea of being able to make all computers talk to each other,” Zhang said. “As I got involved in the early days of internet development, there were just so many interesting problems to work on. Nowadays, the problems are still interesting and the challenges exciting, but what motivates me most is my internal sense of responsibility and obligation to society to carry NDN to its ultimate success.”

Zhang ranks 90th among the top 100 computer scientists in the U.S. In addition to Zhang, UCLA CS Professors Stan Osher, Judea Pearl, and Mani Srivastava all rank within the top 100 computer science researchers in the US as well, ranking 39th, 92nd, and 83rd respectively.

Stan Osher, a professor of Mathematics & Computer Science, Electrical Engineering & Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UCLA, is known for his many contributions in shock capturing, level set methods, and PDE-based methods in computer vision and image processing.

Judea Pearl, a professor of Computer Science, was one of the pioneers of Bayesian networks, and specializes in artificial intelligence and knowledge representation, as well as probabilistic and causal reasoning.

Mani Srivastava, a professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, specializes in embedded software, ubiquitous and mobile computing, human-cyber-physical systems, security and privacy, mobile health, and energy-aware computing.

Read more about the top 100 computer scientists and their research here.