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Congratulations to Elite Researcher Anders Møller

Photo by Søren Kjeldgaard

Congratulations to Professor Anders Møller who today will be honored by the Minister of Education and Research as one of five new Elite Researchers. Anders Møller is the third computer scientist to receive this title, and is honored for his work in theoretical computer science with a focus on programming language and program analysis.

Today, when Minister for Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen announces this year’s Elite Researcher Prizes, one of the recipients will be Professor Anders Møller.

Anders is recognized and honored with the Elite Researcher Prize for his work in theoretical computer science with a focus on programming language and program analysis. He has contributed groundbreaking research in automated program analysis, specifically with applications in Java script programs. His methods make it possible to analyze and find programs errors before using them for example in web applications. Anders Møller, using very abstract mathematics, has created the basis for the so-called "string analysis", which is a program analysis tool. Today, the tool is used both for research and commercial purposes for example in mobile software.

Anders Møller is the third computer scientist to receive the Elite Research Prize. The two previous computer scientists who were appointed Elite Researchers are Lars Arge (2010) and Lars Birkedal (2015). The department can therefore proudly say that we house all the Danish Elite Researchers in computer science.



In connection with the appointment as Elite Researcher, the Ministry for Higher Education and Science has prepared a portrait article on Ander Møller, which can be read below.

Whenever Anders Møller goes to work, he tries to do the impossible. And that’s a good thing for all of us. He is one of the world's best in his field, and his work can help prevent errors in computer programs on our web browsers and mobile phones.

Imagine a tool that can look over computer programmers’ shoulders as they work, and see when they make a mistake. That's what Anders Møller, professor of computer science at Aarhus University, hopes his research can help develop. His professional tools include metre-long equations and mathematical formulae, and they fill the board in his office.

The problem is that, way back in 1936, and with a simple and elegant mathematical proof, the famous British mathematician, Alan Turing, made it abundantly clear that it is impossible to design a computer program that can look at another computer program and find out whether it is behaving as it should.

"So in a way, what I'm trying to do is impossible," says Anders Møller, smiling.

Sneaks around the impossible

However, this does not deter him. He has more willpower and perseverance than most, and he has the capacity to work on solving the same problem for years, without a thought to throwing in the towel. And actually, a kind of loophole does exist that helps him do the impossible.

By making abstract models of the programs, he cannot reason towards exactly how the programs behave, but he can find out something about how they behave in slightly more abstract terms.

And this is very fortunate for us all, and for society. Most serious security breaches and leaks of confidential data happen because hackers can find a tiny, seemingly trivial programming error. But less critical errors also cause problems for IT users, every day.

"Errors in web-based software and apps for mobile phones affect millions of users daily, and program analysis could potentially do something about this," says Anders Møller.

Hopes to make programmers more efficient

At the same time, his program analysis tools can help reduce the amount of lost time, by helping programmers work more efficiently. "Programmers today spend a very large proportion of their working hours testing whether their programs are working as intended. With the help of new algorithms for automated program analysis, we can get the computer to help the programmer avoid errors," says Anders Møller.

In the same way, the program analysis tools can make a difference for everyone who is deeply dependent on different types of software to do their work every day.  "If may not be the end of the world if you have to restart your web browser or your mobile phone when it crashes, but in global terms, this kind of programming error has enormous social costs."


Collaboration with Google and Oracle

Anders Møller is so good at doing the impossible that he is one of the world's most recognised experts in program analysis, and together with his research team, he has entered into collaborations with international tech giants such as Google and Oracle. "I don't know of many other PhD degree programmes for which, the day after they finish, PhD students have a job in exactly the industry their PhD was about," says Anders Møller.

One of the best things for the professor is working with PhD students.  "Probably the most exciting part of the job is when we talk by the blackboard or sit in front of the computer with technical issues, and then together find new solutions that no one has ever seen before," he says.


Fascinated by programming since childhood

Anders Møller was already interested in programming in the early 1980s, when his father came home with a ZX81 computer. However, his fascination with programmes that analyse other programmes really blossomed on the computer science programme at Aarhus University. "I really wanted to go to the university, because I knew there were like-minded people everywhere. It was exactly the right place for me,” he says.

"During my PhD programme, I was allowed to immerse myself in web programming and mathematical theory for programme analysis, both of which form the basis of my research today."

The world of possibilities in programming has always fascinated Anders Møller. And to this day, he still thinks that programming and programme analysis are so exciting that he does not regard it as work when he reads research articles in his holiday home in Helgenæs, or in the evening when he sits down to test a new programming page. However, his 15- and 17-year-old daughters have not inherited his interest: they would much rather talk about horses and life at high school.