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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Many congratulations to Research Fellow Conrad Watt who has won the EAPLS Best Dissertation Award 2021. It was announced just before Christmas that Conrad had won for his dissertation entitled 'Mechanising and evolving the formal semantics of WebAssembly: the Web’s new low-level language'.

EAPLS is the European Association on Programming Languages and Systems. Every year they present an award to the PhD student they judge to have made the most original and influential contribution to the area of Programming Languages and Systems, and who has graduated from a European academic institute.

Conrad, who completed his PhD here in 2021 under the supervision of Professor Peter Sewell, was selected as winner by a committee of international experts who judged candidates' theses on their originality, significance, and quality of writing. 

They concluded that Conrad's dissertation was an outstanding piece of work and considered it the best amongst some very strong contenders.

Conrad's dissertation discusses WebAssembly, the first new programming language to be supported natively by all major Web browsers since JavaScript. It describes a number of ways in which Conrad both helped to shape the specification of WebAssembly, and built upon it.

By mechanising the WebAssembly formal semantics in Isabelle/HOL while it was being drafted, he discovered a number of errors in the specification, drove the adoption of official corrections, and provided the first type soundness proof for the corrected language.

In their findings, the jury said that Conrad's work "has placed WebAssembly on a secure footing, which is essential for what is becoming a key Internet technology." They added that his research contributions and industrial impact were outstanding and that several flaws he identified in the language specification have now been corrected by the standards body. Moreover, they noted that the efforts he made on collaborating with various researchers and industry experts, providing understanding and knowledge, is commendable.

EAPLS concluded by saing "We offer Conrad our heartfelt congratulations on his achievement. We are confident that it will be a sign of a long and distinguished scientific career."


Published by Rachel Gardner on Wednesday 11th January 2023