Canadian Association of Computer Science
Association informatique canadienne
Award for Lifetime Achievement
in Computer Science – 2015

Frank Tompa

David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science
University of Waterloo


Professor Frank William Tompa has contributed significantly in shaping modern computer science research and industry through his dedicated service to Canadian computer science and to Canadian academia more broadly. He has shown through his own innovative and transformative research that university-industry collaborations can be extremely fruitful endeavours, and he continues to support researchers from universities and industry across Canada as they strive to achieve their goals through similarly successful collaborations.

Dr. Tompa’s innovations have significantly influenced the development of software capable of searching and browsing large texts and large text collections. Leveraging his background and earlier successes in database research, he co-led the University of Waterloo's groundbreaking project to design the world’s first searchable, interactive electronic edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The aim of the project was to develop a database system that is capable of supporting the needs of text creators (such as the editors at the Oxford University Press who maintain and enhance the OED), while simultaneously supporting the needs of text users (writers, editors, scholars). The database system development group included software designers and implementers, users from the Press, and users from the world-wide academic community. This close interaction from the beginning was key to its success.

Dr. Tompa’s research included significant innovation in how to manage, browse, and search information expressed in documents with implicit and explicit structural units (headings, sections and subsections, footnotes and annotations, etc.). The principles underlying this research and the resulting systems have been applied to a wide variety of documents encoded with SGML and to Web pages encoded with HTML, and the research eventually influenced the development of XML technologies as well as Web search engines. Dr. Tompa co-founded Open Text Corporation to commercialize the software developed during the OED project, and today Open Text employs 8700 people and earns revenues of $1.8 billion annually.

Subsequent to the OED project, Dr. Tompa led a major industry-university effort to harmonize text and relational database management systems. The software they produced demonstrated that text management extensions to SQL can become efficient components of existing database systems, and these same ideas have since appeared in the XML subsystems created by relational database vendors. This project was recognized with a University-Industry Synergy R&D Partnership Award.

In database circles, Dr. Tompa is also widely known for his contributions to understanding the role of views in database systems. He is also recognized for several important contributions to hypertext management systems, including pioneering work on dynamically defined hypertexts.

Dr. Tompa has dedicated significant effort to support technology transfer and to foster university-industry joint research. He served on university-industry liaison boards within the University of Waterloo and spanning universities across Ontario. He served on the expert panel formed by NSERC to review of its IP Policy in 2008. He served on the MITACS Research Management Committee and still sits on the Mitacs Research Council, which supports industry-university joint research across all academic disciplines nation-wide.

Dr. Tompa’s success across several university-industry collaborative research efforts and his efforts to promote similar success for other researchers should serve as inspiration for computer science researchers.