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Gérard Berry receives CNRS Gold Medal

© Inria / Photo C. Tourniaire

This year's CNRS Gold Medal, France's highest honour for scientific work, has been awarded to Gérard Berry, former Research Director for Inria, former President of the Inria Evaluation Committee and, since 2012, occupant of the first chair in computer science at the Collège de France.

Born on 25 December 1948, Gérard Berry studied at the École Polytechnique and worked as an engineer for the Corps des Mines before doing research at the École des Mines de Paris and Inria from 1970 to 2000. After serving as scientific director at Esterel Technologies from 2001 to 2009, he returned to Inria as director of research from 2009 to 2012. Since then, he has held the first permanent chair in computer science (“Algorithms, machines and languages”) created by the Collège de France, where he also held two one-year chairs: “How and why the world becomes digital” (2007-2008) and “Thinking about, modelling and mastering computation” (2009-2010).

Gérard Berry is a computer science pioneer. Since 1980, his main focus, in collaboration with Inria, CNRS and the École des Mines, has been the development of a language, Esterel, which makes it possible to express the temporal synchronisation of tasks and prove that they are properly executed. The purpose of this synchronous programming is to enable the development of programs that offer a guaranteed response time, a predetermined behaviour and clearly defined resource needs. Unlike more conventional sequential programs, this type of synchronous program is in constant interaction with the environment, and is especially useful for embedded systems. Various versions of the Esterel language have found industrial applications with companies like Dassault Aviation, Bertin, ILOG, ST Microelectronics and Texas Instruments.

Berry's most recent work has focused on diffuse programming, i.e., the programming of connected objects--computers, telephones, televisions, household appliances, etc. The use of such a network of devices involves many complex behaviours: the large number of interacting entities makes it impossible to predict all their potential behaviours, especially due to concurrent behaviours in response to instructions performed by different objects simultaneously.  Gérard Berry is currently developing a new programming language, HipHop, whose objective is to coordinate these behaviours based on cooperation between sequential programming models, which makes it possible to process data step by step, and parallel programming models that reflect the simultaneous execution of operations by different objects, as well as the communication among those objects.

The dissemination of scientific culture has always been of great importance to Berry. This approach is eloquently illustrated by the subject matter chosen for his inaugural lectures at the Collège de France: in 2008, his first presentation for his computer science course, entitled “How and why the world becomes digital”, analysed why digitization and the boom in computer use have changed the world.

In recognition of the numerous industrial applications of his research, Gerard Berry was awarded the Prix Monpetit from the French Académie des Sciences (1990), the Prix Science et Défense (1999) and the Fondation EADS Grand Prix for scientific applications in industry (2005). He was also honoured with the CNRS Bronze Medal (1979), Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques (1994), Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite (2008) and Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (2012). He is a member of the Academia Europaea (since 1993),  the French Académie des Sciences (since 2002) and the Académie des Technologies (since 2005).

The CNRS Gold Medal is France's highest honour for scientific research. Since its creation in 1954, it has been awarded annually for the lifetime work of a scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to the vitality and influence of French scientific research.

Keywords: Esterel CNRS Collège de France