Nancy Amato's Bio

Nancy M. Amato - Bio

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Nancy M. Amato is Interim Director of the Siebel School of Computing and Data Science and Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She received undergraduate degrees in Mathematical Sciences and Economics from Stanford, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois, respectively. Before returning to her alma mater in 2019, she was Unocal Professor and Regents Professor at Texas A&M University and Senior Director of Engineering Honors Programs.

Amato is known for algorithmic contributions to robotics task and motion planning, computational biology and geometry, and parallel and distributed computing. She has graduated 29 PhD students, with most going to faculty positions (13) or research positions in government or industry (9), and has worked with 30+ master's students, 100+ undergraduate researchers, and 10+ high school students. A majority of her students are from groups underrepresented in computing. Her group has developed several groundbreaking approaches for biasing sampling that have enabled sampling-based motion planning, the dominant approach in use today in robotics, to be applied in areas where it was not feasible before. She and her students were the first to use these methods to study protein motion and folding. She is also known for her work in computational geometry, including the development of approximate convex decomposition (ACD) for partitioning polyhedra, and parallel algorithms, including novel approaches for parallel graph traversals.

Amato has served in numerous leadership roles including CRA Board Chair (2021-2025), IEEE Robotics and Automation Society President (Elect 2024-2025, President 2026-2027, Past President 2028-2032), ACM Council Member-at-Large (2020-2024), and AAAS Section-T Chair (2021-2022). She is passionate about broadening participation in computing and has worked at the international, national and local level. She has served as CRA-WP Co-Chair (2014-2017) and as NCWIT Academic Alliance Co-Chair (2009-2011). She has Co-Directed the CRA-WP Distributed REU (DREU) program since 2000; DREU is a national program that matches students from groups underrepresented in computing with a faculty mentor for a summer research experience at the faculty member's home institution. She was Program Chair for the 2015 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) which featured an all-female organizing committee and 50% female invited speakers.

Amato's honors include a Distinguished CS Alumnus Award from UC Berkeley (2024), the inaugural MassRobotics Robotics Medal in 2023, the 2019 IEEE RAS Saridis Leadership Award in Robotics and Automation, the inaugural NCWIT Harrold and Notkin Research and Graduate Mentoring Award in 2014, the inaugural NCWIT Harrold and Notkin Research and Graduate Mentoring Award in 2014, the A. Nico Habermann Award from the CRA in 2014 for her contributions to increasing diversity in computing, and the 2013 IEEE Education Society Hewlett-Packard/Harriet B. Rigas Award. She received University of Illinois awards for Executive Officer Leadership (campus-level, 2024) and for Leadership of Institutional Impact in DEI (college-level, 2024). She received Texas A&M university-level awards in research (2018) and teaching (2011), and the Betty M. Unterberger Award for Outstanding Service to Honors Education at Texas A&M in 2013. She received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, was an AT&T Bell Laboratories PhD Scholar.

Amato is a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.