Thomas Reps named Batra Chair in Computer Sciences

Professor Thomas Reps


While there are many loyal Badgers across the globe, some really go the extra mile in their dedication to UW-Madison.  Rajiv and Ritu Batra (pictured below), who live in California, are one such “super Badger” family. Rajiv and Ritu Batra

Mr. Batra earned his master’s degree from UW-Madison's Department of Computer Sciences in 1983.  He later became the founder of Palo Alto Networks.  His education has served him well, and the Batras care so deeply about maintaining the department’s excellence that they made a generous gift to establish the Rajiv and Ritu Batra Chair in Computer Sciences.

Their gift is designed to support top-flight faculty who will conduct groundbreaking research and train the next generation in the field.  In keeping with this goal, Professor Thomas Reps has been named the first holder of the Batra Chair.

Reps joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1985, just a few years after earning his Ph.D. at Cornell University.  His dissertation won the highly competitive Doctoral Dissertation Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the leading professional organization for computer scientists.

Reps works to ensure that the software that surrounds us behaves correctly.  Guri Sohi, the John P. Morgridge Professor of Computer Sciences, served as a member of the committee that nominated Reps for the Batra Chair.

As Sohi explains, "Tom is one of the world's top experts in the area of program analysis, an area of research that is critical to debugging programs and improving programmer productivity and optimizing a program’s execution, security and the like.  Any time you want to analyze, transform or optimize a program, you need sophisticated program analysis!  Tom's work over the past three decades has helped shape this critical field of computer science."

Reps’ career has been marked by a string of major honors, including the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award (1986), Packard Fellowship (1988), Humboldt Research Award (2000) and Guggenheim Fellowship (2000).  He is an ACM Fellow (2005) and a foreign member of Academia Europaea (2013).  He is also president and co-founder of GrammaTech, Inc., a cybersecurity firm.

Possessing a named chair is both an honor and a practical benefit for researchers like Reps.  While Reps engages in major projects backed by the National Science Foundation and other agencies, such grant-funded work is often very specific in scope and designed to tackle a problem of interest to the funding agency.  Where an agency’s interests line up with a researcher's, a fruitful match can result.

But for more open-ended inquiry—the ultimate results and impact of which may not be immediately apparent—the kind of support provided by the Batra Chair will be enormously beneficial.  It opens up new pathways for the field of computer science.

"Having the research support that the Batra Chair provides is a wonderful opportunity," says Reps.  "It lets you be more creative because support is already in hand, and you can just jump on an opportunity in a new research direction."

Not only will the Batra Chair provide support to Reps, it will allow him to support two graduate students as research assistants each year, so the Batras’ gift will benefit graduate education as well.  “I expect to use the Batra funding to pursue some recent connections that my students and I have discovered between the field of program analysis and the fields of machine learning, databases and constraint programming,” explained Reps.

"Support from alumni is increasingly important [to the university’s mission], and the Batras' gift is one example," says Reps.

Mark D. Hill, chair of the computer sciences department and the Gene M. Amdahl Professor, echoed this thought.  "The department is grateful to supporters like Rajiv and Ritu Batra, who feel strongly about keeping Wisconsin at the forefront of CS education and research.  Their kindness and commitment help make us a better place."