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In memoriam: Professor Alberto Mendelzon

Professor Alberto Mendelzon

 Professor Alberto Mendelzon of computer and mathematical sciences at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, an international leader in database theory and pre-eminent Canadian researcher in data management, died June 16 after a two-year struggle with cancer. He was 53 years old.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mendelzon graduated from the Universidad de Buenos Aires in 1973, before attending Princeton University where he received his master of science in engineering in 1977, MA in 1978 and PhD in 1979. He joined the faculty at Scarborough the following year, in 1980.

Mendelzon’s research was and continues to be central to the development of many areas of database research such as database design, semantic query optimization, graphical query languages and querying web data. He also made important contributions to recursive query languages, online analytic processing, similarity-based queries, data warehouses and view maintenance, algorithms for computing webpage reputations and indexing of XML data. He published over 100 refereed articles in journals, conference proceedings and books and was the fifth most cited Canadian computer scientist, according to the NEC citation database.

A dedicated and popular teacher, Mendelzon was an outstanding mentor and role model for the students he advised, a total of 31 master’s and 17 PhD students. “Observing Alberto’s interaction with his graduate students one concluded that providing effective guidance to students working through challenging research problems was the most relaxed and enjoyable of tasks,” said Professor Mariano Consens, a personal friend and colleague who was one of Mendelzon’s PhD students.

“Alberto had an enjoyable sense of humour. It was hard to avoid giggling at one of his understated jokes — you had the impression that you were not supposed to laugh, given Alberto’s delivery in the most serious lecture tone you could imagine.”

Along with his teaching and research activities, Mendelzon also served the university, his department and UTSC in an administrative capacity. As well as sitting on numerous committees, he served as associate director of the Computer Systems Research Institute from 1991 to 1993 and as acting director in the fall of 1994. In 2003 Mendelzon became the first chair of the newly created Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences at UTSC, a position he had to resign from only a few months later due to the onset of his illness. “This did not slow down his research productivity or teaching,” said Professor Ragnar-Olaf Buchweitz, an old colleague and vice-principal (academic) and dean at UTSC. “He kept up the pace of his work until the very last days.”

On the day he died, it became known that Mendelzon had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in recognition of his outstanding achievements and contributions to his field.

“He was a great person and we all will miss him very much,” Buchweitz said.

© University of Toronto Scarborough