NSF Engineering Distinguished Lecture!

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I received an email (that I initially ignored, modifying Groucho Marx’s maxim, I refuse to present to any group that would invite me to be a Distinguished Lecturer!):

Dear Dr. Sridhar Tayur,

I’m writing to extend an invitation for you to virtually “visit” the National Science Foundation (NSF) as an Engineering Distinguished Lecturer. The Engineering Directorate at the NSF established the Distinguished Lecture Series in 1997 to facilitate cross-fertilization of ideas and integrate knowledge with education, innovation and practice. The Lecture Series also aims to highlight transformative science and engineering concepts, accomplishments, and policy issues. This last year has been uniquely challenging in many ways, including disruptions to supply chains across the world. It would be an honor to have you exchange your ideas and perspectives on opportunities for artificial intelligence initiatives for supply chains and manufacturing in response to the pandemic and moving forward. You are also welcome to suggest other topics you would like to speak about.

A few days later, I received a follow up email:

Dr. Tayur,

I haven’t heard back from you about this invitation.  Do you have any questions I could answer?

I was on a zoom call with my distinguished colleague Gerard C. (discussing Quantum Integer Programming and such) when I mentioned to him this invitation and wondered if this was “mass email” to NAE members, and if he had received such spam. After a moment of silence, when he realized I was not joking but was actually clueless, he said:

I believe this is quite an honor.

Oh? I decided to look into it. Who are the folks who have given these lectures? The April 2021 speaker:

Nancy Lynch is the NEC Professor of Software Science and Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.  She heads the Theory of Distributed Systems research group in MIT’s CS and AI Laboratory (CSAIL). She is an ACM Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of both the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering.  She has been awarded the Dijkstra Prize (twice), the van Wijngaarden prize, the Knuth Prize, the Piore Prize, and the Athena Prize. 

Ouch! I thought maybe she is an exception. So, I scrolled down to February 2021:

Geoffrey Hinton is a fellow of the UK Royal Society and a foreign member of the US National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His awards include the David E. Rumelhart Prize, the IJCAI award for research excellence, the Killam Prize for Engineering, the IEEE Frank Rosenblatt medal, the NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal, the IEEE James Clerk Maxwell Gold medal, the NEC C&C award, the BBVA award, the Honda Prize and the Turing Award.

No, no, no! There must be someone who is not that accomplished. (Geoffrey Hinton used to be at CMU.) I gave it another look, hoping that the third time I would get lucky, and got to the December 2020 speaker:

Barbara Liskov is an Institute Professor at MIT. Liskov is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the Massachusetts Academy of Sciences.  She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Association for Computing Machinery, and a charter fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. She received the ACM Turing Award in 2009, the IEEE Von Neumann medal in 2004, the IEEE Pioneer Award in 2018, a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Women Engineers in 1996, the ACM SIGPLAN Programming Language Achievement Award in 2008, the ACM Sigops Hall of fame award in 2012, and the Stanford Hero of Engineering award in 2019.

Well, I give up. I poured myself a nice glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and responded:

Thanks for the invitation. I would like to speak about Quantum Integer Programming (QuIP) if that works. 

I received a response within the hour.


Thanks for the response; we’re glad to hear that you are interested to come.  Your topic sounds very interesting.  You should be aware that your audience at NSF will have a broad background in all areas of science and engineering, and so I would encourage you to make your talk accessible to a general scientific audience.

We will record the talk and you will be able to download it a few days after. We will be advertising broadly across NSF so we may have people from all of the directorates.

If possible, we will plan ½ day for your visit, including 1 hour for your lecture and Q&A, as well as a number of meetings with small groups of people at NSF. In the next month or so, can you please provide the following items so we can publicize your talk at NSF: Title, Brief synopsis of lecture, Brief bio.

My Distinguished Lecture is scheduled for June 7th, 2021. Scroll right on top picture to see abstract. Here is the zoom link.

PS. About 50 speakers have been invited since September 2012, and during a cursory scan I found 7 MacArthur Fellows and 5 Turing Prize winners. Four other CMU faculty have been invited before me (including one who was the first speaker on the list!). Here is the list. Who stood out to me among these very interesting people?

Fernando Pérez.

I remember in 1996 when I was invited to be a Distinguished Speaker at an IBM event alongside:

Linus Torvalds.


  1. Kool. Congratulations. (And I love Chateauneuf-du-Pape.)

  2. Ha. I’m sure you recall. I was your 1st ever Keynote or Plenary invitation. Wasn’t it INFORMS Seattle around 2007? I was Program Chair. Oh, I invited you many times since: International INFORMS, DSI D.C., another INFORMS conference.

    1. Indeed. INFORMS Seattle was 2007. Then I did MSOM 2008, 2014 and 2017. POMS in 2015, DSI in 2017. Don’t remember International Informs. Are you thinking Hawaii in 2000/2001?

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