National Academy of Sciences Awards Held Prize to UCLA Computer Scientist for Pioneering Cryptography Research

Amit Sahai received the 2022 Michael and Sheila Held Prize

UCLA Samueli
Amit Sahai

Jan 24, 2022

UCLA Samueli Newsroom
Amit Sahai, Symantec Term Professor of Computer Science at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, has received the 2022 Michael and Sheila Held Prize of $100,000 from the National Academy of Sciences.

The academy announced the prize on Jan. 24 as part of its 2022 awards. The annual prize honors research published in the past eight years for “outstanding, innovative, creative, and influential research in the areas of combinatorial and discrete optimization, or related parts of computer science, such as the design and analysis of algorithms and complexity theory.”

Amit Sahai received the 2022 Michael and Sheila Held PrizeThe award, which was established in 2017 by the bequest of Michael and Sheila Held, cited Sahai for his pioneering work on cryptographic software obfuscations and its theoretical applications.

Sahai’s decades-long research has been instrumental in developing the mathematical foundations of secure software obfuscation. He has helped reshape the field of cryptography by introducing the first mathematically sound method for software obfuscation, which implies a solution for nearly every cryptographic problem.

His breakthroughs, starting from the initial conception of “indistinguishability obfuscations” — the notion of making a computer program “unintelligible” while preserving its functionality — and culminating in new constructions based upon well-founded cryptographic assumptions, highlight how computational complexity can enable secrecy while computing in insecure environments.

Sahai has received numerous national and international honors for his cryptography research, including being named a Simons Investigator, and a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, the International Association for Cryptologic Research and the Royal Society of Arts. A dedicated teacher, Sahai received UCLA Samueli’s Lockheed Martin Excellence in Teaching Award in 2016. He has been featured in notable media outlets including WIRED, Forbes and BBC.

Sahai serves as the director of the Center for Encrypted Functionalities, which was established through a FRONTIER award from the National Science Foundation. He is also an advisor to the nonprofit Prison Mathematics Project. His former doctoral students hold faculty appointments at major research institutions around the world and research positions with leading technology companies. Sahai, who received his Ph.D. in computer science from MIT, joined UCLA in 2004 after starting his academic career at Princeton University.

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