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EDA “Nobel Prize” Goes to Algorithmic Pioneer

Comments(0)Filed under: EDA, Industry Insights, EDAC, DAC, CEDA, EDA Consortium, Liu, floorplanning, RMS, Phil Kaufman, computer science, scheduling, award, David Liu, Jason Cong, Taiwan

The annual Phil Kaufman award, which honors individuals who have made a significant impact on electronic design automation, is the EDA industry's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. This year's award was presented Nov. 8 at a dinner event in San Jose, California, sponsored by the EDA Consortium and the IEEE Council on EDA (CEDA). The recipient was Dr. C.L. David Liu (right), a longtime professor in both the U.S. and Taiwan and one of the academic founders of EDA.

In my many years of EDA reporting I never talked to Dr. Liu, but if it were not for his industry contributions, I wouldn't have had as much to write about. Several times at the dinner, Dr. Liu was hailed as the man who "led the transformation from ad-hoc EDA to algorithmic EDA." He developed many of the mathematical foundations of tools like floorplanning, routing, placement, and synthesis. He also contributed heavily to embedded software development and wrote several key textbooks on computer science.

Here are a few quick facts about Dr. Liu's career (and so-called "retirement"):

  • Came to the U.S. in 1958 as an undergrad at MIT and stayed there until 1972.
  • Professor at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, from 1973-1998.
  • Returned to Taiwan in 1998 to become president of National Tsing Hua University until 2002.
  • On the board of a number of companies, including United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) and MediaTek.
  • Hosts weekly radio talk show in Taiwan on subjects including technology, natural science, social science, and literature. Published several essay collections based on presentations in the show and won a 2011 book award in popular science.

I learned a lot more in a speech by Jason Cong, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, who admitted he was a bit nervous speaking in front of (and about) his former PhD advisor, Dr. Liu. Speaking of the award nomination process, he asked, "how many EDA pioneers are on the board of a major semiconductor foundry, several major fabless semiconductor companies, president of a prominent international research university, PhD advisor to a Turing award winner, and has his own radio talk show? We believe the answer is exactly one, and that's Dave."

Cong outlined Dr. Liu's career in more detail, including his first Design Automation Conference (DAC) paper in 1982, and his receipt of a DAC Best Paper award in 1986 for some foundational work in floorplanning algorithms. In addition to floorplanning, Cong said, Dr. Liu's contributions are reflected in over-the-cell channel routing, performance-driven placement, scheduling, and optimal clock period FPGA mapping. "The breadth of Dave's work covers the entire  implementation flow, from routing to placement to logic synthesis and behavioral synthesis," Cong said.

Dr. Liu's work isn't just about EDA. A 1973 paper on Rate Monotonic Scheduling (RMS) describes algorithms widely used in real-time embedded systems today, and the paper has received over 7,000 citations (in academia, 100 citations is considered "good"). Dr. Liu also wrote or co-authored several computer science textbooks. If you've studied computer science, you may have used one of these:

  • Introduction to Combinatorial Mathematics, 1968
  • Linear Systems Analysis, 1975
  • Elements of Discrete Mathematics, 1977
  • Pascal, 1984

Cong said that Dr. Liu is humorous, humble and a great speaker, and Dr. Liu exhibited all these qualities in a short acceptance speech. "Thank you for reminding me how grateful I should be," he said. "When I look at the impact of electronic design automation on this multi-billion dollar semiconductor industry, when I look at EDA by itself, when I look at all the intellectual giants, the industrial leaders, and the young, energetic minds in our profession, I am humbled and so fortunate that I could be a small player in this great landscape."

It seems the rest of us are fortunate for Dr. Liu's contributions.

Richard Goering



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