McGill University


Laurie Hendren (December 13, 1958 – May 27, 2019) was a professor in the School of Computer Science at McGill for 30 years. She was a world leader in programming languages and compilers. Her work in this area was so influential that, in addition to being awarded the 2019 Dahl-Nygaard Prize for seminal contributions to program analysis of procedural, object-oriented and aspect-oriented programming languages, she was chosen to be one of the 54 women from across the ages who appear in the Notable Women in Computer Science Card Deck.

Professor Hendren made important contributions to the open-source movement. Much of her work involved building and maintaining extensible frameworks which were made freely available to the community. She is best known for the SOOT framework which she created in 1998. This was an exciting time for the programming language community, as Java, now the most widely used programming language, had been introduced in 1996. Java has a substantial advantage over traditional languages in that the compiler runs in tandem with the program execution, continually recompiling to adopt to changes in the runtime environment. In Java’s early years, however, Java compilers were in their infancy and Java programs ran hundreds of times slower than their C counterparts. Professor Hendren developed SOOT as a software framework for researching techniques to reason about Java programs to predict their runtime behaviour and to optimize them to run faster. Over a hundred research groups around the world now use SOOT to do the same thing. It is one of the primary tools for analyzing and transforming Java programs.

SOOT was just one of the many long-lasting open source infrastructures that Professor Hendren created. Her final contribution along these lines McLab, was an open source alternative to the widely used MATLAB.

Professor Hendren’s contributions were not limited to these frameworks.  She also made important contributions to program analysis itself, especially with regard to pointer analysis.

One seminal contribution there was to highlight the importance of differentiating between pointers that always point to the same object, and pointers that could but might not point to the same object.

Her last project, OPAL, was a patient portal that empowered cancer patients by facilitating access to their medical records, access to information about their disease, and communication with their healthcare providers. OPAL was awarded an excellence prize by the Quebec Government.

For many of her projects, she mobilized and trained an army of students to work with her. A significant proportion of the compiler community in Canada active in 2020 was trained by Professor Hendren. She had a special ability to motivate and mobilize a group of students around a common goal. She received the Leo Yaffe Award for excellence in teaching from McGill University in recognition of her abilities.