Shafi Goldwasser Receives L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award

Simons Institute Director Shafi Goldwasser has been awarded the 2021 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Award in recognition of “her pioneering and fundamental work in computer science and cryptography, essential for secure communication over the internet as well as for shared computation on private data.” Goldwasser’s research in probabilistic encryption and zero-knowledge protocols is widely acknowledged as having made secure e-commerce possible.

Every year, the Fondation L'Oréal and UNESCO celebrate the scientific excellence of five eminent women scientists, each from a major region of the world. Based on the conviction that “the world needs science, and that science needs women,” this prize promotes women in science “in order to render them more visible, make their talent known and inspire vocations.” Goldwasser is this year’s laureate for North America.

“Shafi is an extremely creative researcher,” says Avi Wigderson of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., “and excels in defining new models and problems — often predicting industry needs before they exist. It is hard to compete with such remarkable ingenuity and widespread impact on computation, communication, and cryptography in the work of a single person.”

In addition to serving as director of the Simons Institute since 2018, Goldwasser is the C. Lester Hogan Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley. She is also the RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Goldwasser’s pioneering work in establishing the theoretical foundations of modern cryptography was recognized with an ACM A.M. Turing Award (the highest honor in computer science) in 2012. Her many other accolades also include two Gödel Prizes (1993 and 2001), the ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award for outstanding young computer professional (1996), the Franklin Institute Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science (2010), the IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award (2011), a Simons Foundation Investigator Award (2012), and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2018). Goldwasser holds an MS (1981) and PhD (1984) in computer science from UC Berkeley.

“The ‘invisibilization’ of women in science is still too significant,” says Alexandra Palt, executive vice president of the Fondation L’Oréal. “Today, less than 4% of the scientific Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women, and the glass ceiling still persists in research. We absolutely must aspire to a profound transformation of institutions, of teaching and promotion of female researchers, of the system as a whole. While the gender imbalance remains in science, we will never be able to meet the challenges of an inclusive society or to tackle the scientific issues the world is facing.”

Cryptographer Tal Rabin of the University of Pennsylvania and the Algorand Foundation identifies Goldwasser’s impact as directly addressing this imbalance. “Shafi has been an inspiration to many women (and men) in our field. The area of cryptography has among the highest concentrations of women relative to other branches of computer science. This is easily attributed to Shafi, first and foremost — simply because her greatness is clear and evident, she is the ultimate role model. Furthermore, she made it a point to advance women, whether by advising them or by making sure that women’s voices are heard and our presence is known.”

The other women honored with the 2021 For Women in Science Award are Catherine Ngila (chemistry; Riara University, Kenya), Kyoko Nozaki (chemistry; University of Tokyo, Japan), Françoise Combes (astrophysics; Paris Observatory, France), and Alicia Dickenstein (mathematics; University of Buenos Aires, Argentina). 

Read today’s official award announcement, which coincides with the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science.