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Oxford students win prestigious international programming contest


Four doctoral students have won first prize in the programming contest at the International Conference on Functional Programming.

The ICFP Programming Contest is a well-established, annual competition. This year’s challenge saw competitors write a program that plays Lambda: The Gathering, a card game which was specifically invented for the competition.

Back in June, participants had 72 hours to complete and submit their entry over the Internet, with the winners being announced at the conference in Tokyo, Japan, yesterday.

The team – Eta-LOng Normal Form –  fought off competition from 198 teams from all over the world, to be crowned the winners.

Eta-LOng Normal Form was made up of Chris Broadbent, Martin Lester, Robin Neatherway and Steven Ramsay, who are all undertaking DPhils (the Oxford word for PhD) under the supervision of Luke Ong at Oxford’s Department of Computer Science.

Steven Ramsay, from the winning team,  commented “The ICFP programming competition was originally conceived to help demonstrate the effectiveness of functional programming, but achieving that goal is contingent on functional programmers actually winning the contest.   In recent years, the winners have almost all used more conventional, imperative programming languages, so we're most proud of being able to reclaim the title on behalf of functional programming!"

The 16th ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Functional Programming (ICFP 2011) provides a forum for researchers and developers to hear about the latest work on the design, implementations, principles, and uses of functional programming, from practice to theory.

The winning team

Chris Broadbent completed an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Philosophy at Oxford before embarking on his doctorate.  His research interests concern higher-order pushdown automata and model-checking.

Martin Lester completed his undergraduate degree in Computer Science at Cambridge, and an MSc in Mathematics and Foundations of Computer Science at Oxford.  His is particularly interested in the theory and application of type systems in programming languages, with his research currently focussing on the verification of information security properties in dynamic languages, such as JavaScript.

Robin Neatherway completed his undergraduate degree at the University of York, before going on to work for Praxis High Integrity Systems. His research interests are in the verification of imperative and functional programs and his DPhil topic concerns developing practical model-checking algorithms for functional programming languages.

Steven Ramsay completed his undergraduate degree at the University of York and went on to work in the formal methods group at QinetiQ.  His research at Oxford concerns automatic abstraction and refinement techniques for the verification of functional programs using higher-order model checking.