College of Computing Remembers Alberto Apostolico

Thursday, July 23, 2015

With great sadness, the College of Computing reports that Professor Alberto Apostolico passed away July 20 in his native Italy.

He held joint appointments with Georgia Tech’s School of Computational Science & Engineering and School of Interactive Computing as a researcher and professor.

Left to Posterity

Prolific in the field of algorithmic design and application, Apostolico conducted research and taught across three continents, jointly secured three industrial patents, held visiting or permanent appointments at 17 universities throughout his career, founded and steered notable international conferences, and published no less than 177 books, articles and papers in his lifetime.  

Much of his work dealt with algorithms and data structures for combinatorial pattern matching and problems arising in text editing, data compression, and image processing. His research interests also included data mining, bioinformatics, biomolecular sequence analysis, parallel and distributed computation, coding theory, and image processing.

“Bella and I have known Alberto and Titti for more than 30 years,” said Zvi Galil, Dean of the College of Computing. “We have kept in touch for the entire period. Alberto was the ultimate raconteur; he gave fantastic talks that included lots of history and culture. Alberto and I collaborated in research and in organizing workshops and conferences. He even sent his best student to be my PhD student while I was at Columbia. Alberto later played a major role in attracting me to Georgia Tech. He was above all my friend and I cherished his company.” 

Apostolico’s contributions to computational science are well-documented through editing a number of books, 84 journal articles, 73 conference papers, and other writings that he leaves to posterity. He and Galil co-edited volumes of the Combinatorial Algorithms on Words (Springer-Verlag) and Pattern Matching Algorithms (Oxford University Press). In all, Apostolico and Galil co-wrote a number of papers, and Apostolico continued to explore the “Boyer-Moore-Galil String Searching Strategies” throughout his career.

Academic Influence

Apostolico earned his first degree in electronic engineering from the University of Naples, graduating summa cum laude. He soon completed a second degree in computer science from the University of Salerno (also graduating summa cum laude), then taught in Italy for eight years before coming to the United States as an associate professor at Purdue University in Indiana. He joined Georgia Tech as a professor in 2005. His wife, Concettina “Titti” Guerra, also teaches in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing.

“Alberto and Titti and their daughter Rosa became our second family, first at Purdue and then during our sabbatical year in Padua,” said Rich DeMillo, former dean of the College of Computing.  “When I became dean, recruiting Alberto and Titti to Georgia Tech was among my highest priorities.”  

When DeMillo transitioned out of the role of dean, Apostolico agreed to gauge the interest of Galil in the position.

“It was clear from the outset that Alberto’s presence at Georgia Tech and on the call were significant in Zvi’s consideration and eventual acceptance of the job,” says Ellen Zegura, chair of the School of Computer Science at the time. “Alberto deserves considerable credit for impacting the last 10-year phase of the College of Computing.”

In addition to teaching and conducting research at Georgia Tech, Apostolico held visiting and permanent appointments at Carnegie Mellon, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Purdue, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center; in Europe at University of Salerno, University of L' Aquila, University of Padova, IASI at Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, University of Paris, University of London, King's College, Zif-Bielefeld Center for Interdisciplinary Research, and Renyi-Hungarian Academy of Sciences;  in Asia at IMS of the National University of Singapore, Partner Institute for Computational Biology in Shanghai, and Korea University.

“Alberto was a true scholar,” says Annie Antón, chair of the School of Interactive Computing. “He was a good citizen, always kind, and he always said yes when asked for assistance.” 

An Enthusiastic Mentor

“Alberto was a curious and enthusiastic mind, with a deep sense of intuition about string structures and algorithms, and with a constant interest in applying the theory of combinatorial pattern matching (a field he helped to establish) to real problems in molecular biology and in high-throughput sequence analysis,” said former student Fabio Cunial, a postdoctoral researcher in Dresden, Germany at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology & Genetics.  “He was a very encouraging mentor, always offering new opportunities to his students… His presence and advices became a constant in all the key steps of my life.”

Apostolico was the (co-) recipient of research grants from seven nations and multi-national organizations such as Fulbright, NATO and ESPRIT. In 2006, he was one of four scientists assigned to the B. Segre Interdisciplinary Institute of Accademia dei Lincei  ("Galileus' Academy") in Rome, and was dedicated a special issue by Theoretical Computer Science, the journal of the European Association for TCS.

He was a boundless contributor to the international conference circuit. He was a founding member of the steering committee of the International Symposia on Combinatorial Pattern Matching (CPM). Apostolico also served on the steering committees of the International Conferences on Discovery Science and the Symposia on String Processing and Information Retrieval. He was founding executive committee member of the Fibonacci Institute for the Foundations of Computer Science and of the MSE Program in Software Engineering. He held leadership roles at many international conferences, including Research in Computational Biology (RECOMB), Workshop on Algorithms in Bioinformatics (WABI), IEEE Data Compression Conference, String Processing and Information Retrieval (SPIRE) and Combinatorial Pattern Matching. (CPM).

“What I will miss most about Alberto is his enthusiastic love for teaching,” says David Bader, chair of the School of Computational Science & Engineering. “He spoke with me often about his students and their future, and he truly lived each day for the gift of sharing his knowledge in the classroom.”

Lecture Series Established in Apostolico's Memory