Leslie Lamport, MA’63, PhD’72

Leslie Lamport on stage receiving his honorary degree with Professor Jordan Pollack, Provost Lisa Lynch and President Ron Liebowitz

Left to Right: Professor Jordan Pollack, P’09, Provost Lisa Lynch, P’17, Leslie Lamport, MA’63, PhD’72, President Ron Liebowitz

Computer scientist Leslie Lamport — celebrated as “the father of principled distributed computing” — is a central figure in the development of protocols that allow computer systems to cooperate, avoid errors and resolve confusion.

No less a figure than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates says Lamport “has done great things not just for the field of computer science but also in helping make the world a safer place. Countless people around the world benefit from his work without ever hearing his name.”

In recognition of his contributions, Lamport, whose master’s and PhD in mathematics were earned at Brandeis, won the 2013 A.M. Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of computing.

Lamport has been a researcher at Microsoft Research since 2001. Earlier, he conducted research at Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq, Massachusetts Computer Associates and SRI International.

Many observers consider his most famous work to be the Paxos algorithm, which guarantees the safety of computer code shared by multiple networks, including unreliable systems.

Lamport’s “Time, Clocks and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System” (1978) is one of the most-cited research papers ever published in the field of computer science.

Says Bob Taylor, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation’s Systems Research Center, “The internet is based on distributed-systems technology, which is, in turn, based on a theoretical foundation invented by Leslie. So if you enjoy using the internet, then you owe Leslie.”

Lamport is also the developer of the LaTeX document-preparation system, used in academia for scientific documents in a wide range of fields, from applied sciences to economics.

He has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to the Turing Award, his many recognitions include the Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize in Distributed Computing, the IEEE John von Neumann Medal and the Jean-Claude Laprie Award in Dependable Computing.

Honorary Degree Citation

Heralded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates for “helping make the world a safer place,” you are widely recognized for your breakthroughs in developing distributed systems. By establishing protocols that allow computer systems to cooperate, avoid errors and resolve confusion, you devised building blocks central to the internet’s creation. In 2014, to honor your foundational work in your field, the Association for Computing Machinery bestowed on you the A.M. Turing Award, also known as the Nobel Prize of computing. Your influence has spanned decades: A 1978 paper you wrote is one of the most-cited contributions to computer-science research. Alongside your landmark work in distributed systems, you also developed the LaTeX document-preparation system, used today by scholars across scientific and technical fields. The keenness of your vision, which your master’s and doctoral studies at Brandeis helped you achieve, has been underscored by your election to the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, as well as by a constellation of medals and prizes, including the Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize in Distributed Computing. In awarding you Brandeis University’s highest honor, we celebrate your innovative work, which allows the world to communicate and transfer data on a scale — and with an immediacy — never before imagined.