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Robins Tackles Computer Problems

From Inside UVa
November 10, 2000

By Charlotte Crystal

Gabriel Robins awakened to the capabilities of computers when he was 7 or 8 years old and saw the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey." Hal 9000, the spaceship's intelligent onboard computer, left an indelible mark on Robins' mind. "Computers are an amazing tool that magnifies the capabilities of our brain," said Robins, the Walter N. Munster Associate Professor of Computer Science at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Other tools -- cars, engines, planes, submarines, helicopters -- are mundane by comparison. Computers are in a class all by themselves."

Thanks to a program for gifted children at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel, Robins began at an early age to pursue what would become a lifelong interest in computers.

Robins possesses a working knowledge of dozens of computer languages, operating systems and hardware platforms. He has addressed a variety of specific problems in computer science, but most fall under the rubric of "optimization" -- finding simpler ways for computer hardware and software programs to solve increasingly complicated problems faster and cheaper.

A major research interest of Robins' is interconnections and finding the best ways to connect components. Another area of interest involves working with semiconductor manufacturers to increase the production yield of computer chip manufacturing plants.

where dispatchers seek the shortest, simplest routes connecting a number of (potentially moving) destinations. And the U.S. Army uses his work in landmine detection.

For fun, he does math, with serious results. An algorithm Robins developed -- a solution for a long-standing math problem, "the discrete Plateau problem of minimal surfaces" -- was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1992 and received national news coverage.

Since joining the U.Va. faculty in 1992, Robins has won awards, the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award ($312,500) and the Packard Foundation Fellowship ($500,000). And as co-principal investigator, he secured three grants from the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (for more than $3.1 million).

Robins' personal recipe for success is based on persistence.

"Most billionaires had many, many failures and one good idea," Robins said. "One good idea makes up for many failures. My philosophy of life is, don't be afraid to fail, but fail fast. You will probably fail many times in your life. Just fail fast and move on until eventually you get to success."

Original Article | Local Copy


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