The Laureates

Copyright © Klaus Tschira Stiftung / Peter Badge

John E. Hopcroft

Born 7 October 1939, Seattle, Washington, USA

ACM A.M. Turing Award (1986) with Robert E. Tarjan “for fundamental achievements in the design and analysis of algorithms and data structures.”

John Hopcroft was born into a working class family. His father had emigrated from England to Canada as a World War I veteran, and met and married his wife in Seattle. Although his parents had to leave school early, Hopcroft’s father worked in Seattle as a janitor, and his mother was a bookkeeper, they undertook everything to allow their children a good education. Hopcroft first studied Electrical Engineering at Seattle University (B.S. 1961) and then went on to Stanford University in the same field (M.S. 1962, Ph.D. 1964). As an assistant professor at Princeton University, Hopcroft developed one of the first computer science courses in the world. From the records of these lectures, the standard work, “Formal Languages and Their Relation to Automata” (Addison-Wesley, 1969) was born. It became the training book for generations of computer scientists and is still published in a revised edition today. In 1967 Hopcroft joined Cornell University, first as an associate professor and then professor (1972), Joseph C. Ford Professor (1985) and IBM Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics (2004 to present).

Inspired by the experience of his first lecture, teaching has always been very important to Hopcroft. He was twice elected the most inspiring teacher at Cornell and received several awards for outstanding teaching, including the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award. Hopcroft holds honorary doctorates from Seattle, Sydney, St. Petersburg, Hong Kong (HKUST) and Beijing Universities, is an Einstein professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as holding honorary professorships from Yunnan, Chongqing, Shanghai Jiao Tong, and Huazhong Universities, and has received numerous scientific prizes. His other focus remains in research.

Hopcroft began his career with the development of formal languages and automata theory, i.e., the theoretical study of computer models which was the early basis of computer science. He became famous for his textbook of 1969 “Formal Languages and Their Relation to Automata”, which he expanded in 1979 at first with Jeffrey Ullman and later with Rajeev Motwani into the work “Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation”. This is still today considered a standard work in the field. In 1970 he recognized that computer science needed to expand and developed the concept of asymptotic analysis of algorithms which was the basis of computer science from 1975 until 1990. He is current involved in information science and its relationship to social networks and big data as well as helping a number of countries improve their educational systems.

Hopcroft enjoys hiking, tennis, swimming, cycling, windsurfing, sailing, volleyball, ping-pong, Sudoku and solitaire. He is married, has 3 children, and 6 grandchildren.