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In Memoriam: Professor Lars Arge

Lars Arge, Professor at Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University. Photo: Morten Koldby

It is with great sorrow, we received the message that Professor Lars Arge has passed away on December 23rd, 2020, at the age of just 53. His wife Alice and the closest family was with him.

Lars finally has peace after battling kidney cancer for several years. Lars has been very open about his fight in both his personal communication and social media updates. We have witnessed both positive and negative news, including the latest December 6th about starting his stay at Hospice Søholm. Lars faced his cancer with a scientific approach to understanding both illness and treatment options.

His passing is a great loss to the Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, as well as to us personally as colleagues who have benefitted from Lars’s excellent and internationally renowned research contributions within Algorithms and Data Structures, as well as his many ideas on how to build a world-class department.

Lars received both his Master’s degree (1993) and his PhD degree (1996) from Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University. After graduation, he in 1996 started a research career at Department of Computer Science, Duke University, USA, advancing from Assistant Professor, to full Professor over less than 10 years. In 2004, he returned as Full Professor at our Department with a Ole Rømer Scholarship, from the Danish National Science Research Council. He will be remembered for making significant footprints in the international research landscape. He is internationally renowned as one of the pioneers in the field of external memory and I/O algorithms that became among the most important techniques to build a foundation for dealing with “Big Data” - a term that was coined as a trend many years after Lars’ pioneering work.

In his first years as professor at CS AU, he paved the ground for the Center for Massive Data Algorithmics (MADALGO), which received support as a Center of Excellence from Danish National Research Foundation. Lars was the Center Director for MADALGO in the period 2007-2017, and the Center’s success can be illustrated by an international evaluation panel concluding that the MADALGO center "no doubt (is) the world-leading center in massive dataset algorithmics". In the aftermath of MADALGO, Lars involved himself in several strategic research initiatives such as DABAI and DIREC funded by the Innovation Fund Denmark. He was also a co-founder of the successful company SCALGO Aps that utilizes the algorithmic foundations from MADALGO to develop software services dealing with massive terrain data to predict flooding risks and other geospatial analysis. Thus, Lars proved that he could transform excellent basic research on algorithms into operational solutions and entrepreneurship leading to a successful company.

Lars has received many honors and awards for his research: In 2010, he received the Danish Minister of Research Elite Research award (“EliteForsk Prisen”) as the first Danish Computer Scientist, in 2012, he became Fellow of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) for his contributions to massive data algorithmics, in 2015 he received the Order of the Dannebrog from her majesty the Queen of Denmark, and in 2016, he became an Honorary Doctorate at TU Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

In addition, to being a successful researcher, teacher, and supervisor, Lars was also very committed to community services and research politics. He was already very politically active as a student. This made Lars’ supervisor worry and ask him whether he actually had the time for a PhD project. In his professional career, Lars continued a high political activity level, he has served on several research boards and panels, and been Chair of the Independent Research Fund for Nature and Universe. In 2008 he became member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, and in 2016, he became Secretary General and member of the Presidium. In 2011, he was also elected member of the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences. He has actively used these platforms to improve conditions for excellent basic research in Denmark. He was a very strong voice for computer science in his rich network spanning politicians and chairs/directors for both public and private research funds. Among many other achievements, he was as always fighting for optimal conditions for basic research, and he championed for the introduction of a Tenure Track system into the Danish research career development for young researchers.

On a personal note, Lars and I did not agree in every respect. In the good old days, we were at times in opposite camps when discussing department policy, but over the years we met in constructive agreement on most topics. We fought on the same side, for Department development, and for establishing new strategic initiatives for Computer Science in Denmark. I developed a friendship with Lars making him an invaluable strategic sparring partner also during my so far 2.5 years as Head of Department. I will miss this sparring and our conversations greatly in the future! As a person, he was passionate, humorous, social and lively. He was loyal and cared deeply about his colleagues, students, family and friends.

On behalf of the Department’s Faculty and Staff, I wish to express a last warm thank you from the Department to Professor Lars Arge for his invaluable contributions. His excellence in research and his fighting spirit has been and will be a lodestar for the department also in the future.

Our warmest thoughts remain with Lars’ family - in particular with his wife Alice as well as Nick and David.

Kaj Grønbæk, Head of Department