Computer scientist Darrell Whitley named an ACM Fellow

darrell whitley with bonsai trees

Darrell Whitley, professor in the Department of Computer Science. Credit: John Eisele/Colorado State University

Darrell Whitley, professor in the Department of Computer Science at Colorado State University, has been named a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, the computing field’s most distinguished professional society.

Whitley joins 57 other Fellows and will be formally recognized June 20 at the ACM meeting in San Francisco. He is being honored for “both technical and professional leadership in the field of genetic and evolutionary computation.” He is the first researcher in the field of evolutionary computation to be named an ACM Fellow.

Whitley is a 30-year member of the CSU faculty who served as chair of the Department of Computer Science from 2003 to 2018.  In fiscal year 2019, Whitley was also acting associate dean in the College of Natural Sciences. An important figure in evolutionary computation, search and combinatorial optimization, and machine learning, Whitley’s work has been cited more than 24,000 times throughout his career.

Whitley’s contributions to his field include rank selection in evolutionary computation; new methods for solving the Traveling Salesman Problem; and most recently, new methods to tunnel between locally optimal solutions to find improved solutions.

Among Whitley’s notable contributions is the steady state genetic algorithm, first described in a 1989 paper. Classic genetic algorithms work generationally – pairs of solutions (parents) in one generation are combined to generate new solutions (offspring) that are carried to the next generation. Steady state genetic algorithms are an innovation where the population of solutions is fixed, and once offspring are generated, the parents and offspring are compared. For a wide range of applications, steady state genetic algorithms are computationally more efficient than classical genetic algorithms.

As evidence of the algorithm’s practical effect, General Electric credited Whitley’s work in their use of the steady state genetic algorithm to design and optimize jet engines for the Boeing 777 airplane.

Builder and innovator

As head of the CSU computer science department for 15 years, Whitley helped build a department known for exceptional research and thoughtful instruction. The number of computer science majors enrolled at CSU continues to climb, from about 300 in 2008 to about 750 in 2018. This year also posted a record number of female first-year students in the department.

“Darrell is an innovator in computer science,” said Craig Partridge, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “His pioneering contributions to genetic and evolutionary computation have impacted all of our lives, and it is a pleasure to see his contributions recognized.”

Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, agreed.

“This is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Whitley, whose novel research on genetic and evolutionary computation makes him a leader at CSU and in the field of computer science,” she said. “Awards like this are not only prestigious for the individuals who receive them, but they also show that the Department of Computer Science is a distinguished program that is pursuing research and education at the forefront of the field.”

When not engaged in his academic pursuits, Whitley is also an award-winning bonsai artist, having developed a decades-long interest in the Japanese art of cultivating small trees. His work was recently featured at the Denver Botanic Gardens in a solo show.

Other ACM Fellows at CSU include Partridge and H.J. Siegel, professor emeritus in electrical and computer engineering.

The Department of Computer Science is in the College of Natural Sciences.