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New Graduate to Begin Microsoft Research Internship

December 4, 2012

A University of Kansas student has received a postdoctoral internship with the prestigious Microsoft Research (MSR) Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Nicolas Frisby
Nicolas Frisby

Nicolas Frisby, who will graduate this fall with his doctorate in computer science, will begin a three-month fellowship in January. He will conduct research on tools that greatly reduce the development time for highly secure, dependable software used in lifesaving medical devices, defense systems, financial trading, and other critical applications. 

“I am extremely fortunate to have this great opportunity, and very excited,” said Frisby. “These researchers are the ideal mentors and collaborators for me right now.”

Frisby will work under the direction of Simon Peyton Jones, a founding father of Haskell, a functional programming language that uses advanced math functions to create shorter, more manageable code. The precision, consistency, and stability of mathematical expressions make it easier and cheaper to build large complex software systems. 

“Simon Peyton Jones has been part of an incredible number of fantastic research initiatives in functional programming. And many of those have ended up affecting programmers, be it their actual work or even the way they think about programming,” said Frisby.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Assistant Professor Andy Gill, who studied under Peyton Jones at the University of Glasgow in the early ‘90s, continues to be influenced by Peyton Jones’ ideas and leadership in Haskell.  Frisby asked Dr. Gill for an introduction at the International Functional Programming Conference this fall. The meeting turned into an impromptu interview that led to the internship.

“Nic is an outstanding ambassador for KU and the quality of work we are doing here,” said Dr. Gill, who was a visiting researcher at MSR in 1999.  “I am sure Nic will do well at MSR.”

Frisby is looking forward to adding to the Haskell knowledge base and building additional tools for real-world applications.

“While Haskell and functional programming were both important to my doctoral work, they weren't the main focus. I'd like to move in their direction. I'd really like to start off by making a contribution to the Haskell community. This internship is the best way to jumpstart that goal,” said Frisby.

He conducted research in the Computer Systems Design Lab at the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center (ITTC). Under the direction of EECS Professor Perry Alexander, Frisby focused on making large programs easier to write by allowing programmers to leverage Haskell’s static safety in a novel way.  He earned honors for his dissertation, “Reducing the Cost of Precise Types,” which uses types to guarantee that bad values are never input to functions.  His application, yoko, automatically generates exact types for use in intermediate functions.  

“Nic has been working in my lab since he was an undergraduate student and I will miss his insight,” said Dr. Alexander.  “Nic is always looking for the next problem to work on, constantly pushing everyone in my lab to think harder and more deeply. This position at Microsoft Research could not be more ideal and I'm elated for him.”

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