World class researcher honoured

10 November 2014

Emeritus Professor Ian Witten

Work honoured: Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford, Emeritus Professor Ian Witten and Deputy Vice-chancellor Professor Alister Jones.

When Ian Witten arrived at the University of Waikato 22 years ago he was known for his expertise in data compression, but his interests soon switched to machine learning and data mining and, later, digital libraries.

Helped establish Waikato's international reputation

He has helped establish the University of Waikato's international reputation in these fields, achieving this from an outstanding base of scholarship and has now been honoured with the title Emeritus Professor.

His research career spans 40 years and he is the only current member of the University listed in Thomson Reuters Highly Cited researchers.

Professor Witten's best-known publication is the book Data mining: Practical machine learning tools and techniques. It's now in its third edition. Equally influential was How to Build a Digital Library. His other books include Managing Gigabytes and Text Compression.

Professor Witten is well known too for his open source software, sharing his advances with thousands of students, teachers and users around the world.

These include Weka, a data mining tool, Greenstone, a digital library platform and the language learning system FLAX.

Weka is probably the world's most widely-used machine learning workbench and the accompanying Data Mining book sells over 6,000 copies a year.

Contributions to computer science

In 2004 Professor Witten and the Greenstone team were awarded the International Federation of Information Processing Namur Award and in 2005, the Royal Society of New Zealand awarded him the Hector Medal for his contribution to many branches of computer science.

He was the first computer scientist to be elected to the Royal Society. In 2010 he won the Science, Technology and Academia category at the Kea Awards to be recognised as a World Class New Zealander.

In 2012 he was a Royal Academy of Engineering Distinguished Visiting Fellow (UK) and in 2013 Professor Witten, with others, was awarded the honorary medal of ABZ of ETH Zurich for outstanding contributions to computer science education. The same year has was also the recipient of the Lifetime Research Achievement Excellence Award.

In 2014 Professor Witten's FLAX software won first place at the Linked Vici Competition, held to acknowledge development in open and linked data for educational purposes.

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford says Professor Witten has arguably done more than any other academic to put Waikato on the world map. 

"He has brought world recognition to this university over a long period of time and is a clear leader in this field. Professor Witten has also selflessly implemented a comprehensive succession plan for various research groups," he says.

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