June 22, 2024


Technological development

LAURELS: Awards Bolster Computer Scientist’s Legacy




  • Prem Devanbu, College of Engineering
  • John Harvey, College of Engineering
  • Isaya Kisekka, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and College of Engineering
  • Zhongli Pan, College of Engineering
  • Megan Dennis, School of Medicine
  • Sabbie Miller, College of Engineering
  • Brett Poulin, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Prem Devanbu

Two awards announced recently for UC Davis’ Prem Devanbu help define his legacy as a computer scientist.

First, he is among the recipients of 2022 Alexander von Humboldt Research Awards, given by Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to world-renowned researchers from all disciplines whose fundamental discoveries, theories and findings have had a lasting effect on their fields.

Second, he and his co-authors received the Most Influential Paper Award from the 2022 International Conference on Software Engineering, for “On the Naturalness of Software,” published in 2012.

“It is not often that research is conducted that changes the course of a field,” computer science professor Gail Murphy of the University of British Columbia wrote in a 2016 technical perspective on the paper. “The demonstration by the authors that software is natural and that statistical language models apply fundamentally opens up new approaches to creating scalable, useful software development tools.”


Devanbu joined the Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering, as an assistant professor in 1998 and was named a distinguished professor in 2021. He wrote “On the Naturalness of Software” with faculty colleague Zhendong Su, postdoctoral scholars Abram Hindle and Earl Barr, and former student Mark Gabe.

The paper describes their discovery of the striking parallels between source code and human language, finding that, like language, code was highly repetitive and predictable — even more so than English. This opened up an entirely new area of research in the field, and he has devoted his career since then to exploring the implications.

Like all recipients of Alexander von Humboldt Research Awards, Devabu has been invited to Germany as a visiting scholar. He will collaborate with Professor Michael Pradel at the University of Stuttgart on improving deep neural models of code, and with Sven Apel and Andreas Zeller at the University of Saarland on bimodal experiments to study program understanding.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, named after the German nature researcher and explorer, aims to strengthen Germany as a research location through international academic exchange and by supporting Humboldt fellows and award winners throughout their lives and careers.

John Harvey

John Harvey, professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, recently received the American Society of Civil Engineers’ James Laurie Prize, named after the society’s first president and awarded for contributions to the advancement of transportation engineering.

Harvey is the director of the UC Pavement Research Center and past chair of the Transportation Technology and Policy Graduate Group. He teaches concrete and flexible pavement design and rehabilitation, asphalt concrete materials and project management.

The Pavement Research Center has an ongoing Caltrans-sponsored project (Partnered Pavement Research Center) for research and development of a wide range of pavement technology, and also works with federal agencies and industry.

Isaya Kisekka, left, and Zhongli Pan

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers announced it will present two of its major awards to UC Davis professors during the society’s 2022 international meeting, July 17-20, in Houston:

  • Isaya Kisekka, associate professor, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, College of Engineering — Netafim Award for Advancements in Microirrigation, recognizing excellence in research, development, extension, education or industry. Kisekka’s research focuses on developing management strategies and technologies to help farmers optimize productivity and net profitability under limited water while exerting minimum negative impacts on the environment.
  • Zhongli Pan, adjunct professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering— International Food Engineering Award, recognizing significant contributions in research, development or the design of food processes. The award also recognizes outstanding leadership, management and education in the food engineering profession. Pan’s group develops new techniques and technologies to make handling and processing crops like fruit, nuts, vegetables and grains more sustainable while enhancing efficiency, quality and safety. In particular, his research group is known for its innovative work using infrared heating technology for peeling, blanching, roasting, drying and disinfecting food products.

From left: Megan Dennis, Sabbie Miller and Brett Poulin

The National Science Foundation recently awarded CAREER grants to three UC Davis faculty members.

CAREER is shorthand for the Faculty Early Career Development Program, which describes the awards as the NSF’s most prestigious in support of faculty members beginning their independent careers and “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

Here are the three most recent UC Davis recipients, each listed with the title of the research project for which they received their CAREER grant and an excerpt from the project abstract:

Dateline UC Davis welcomes news of faculty and staff awards, for publication in Laurels. Send information to [email protected].


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