New IEEE Medal named for Computer Scientist Frances E. Allen
Second IEEE Medal Named for a Woman By Lynn Frassetti

Frances E. Allen, IBM Fellow and computing pioneer, is the namesake for a new IEEE Medal. IBM sponsors this medal, which will be presented for the first time at the 2022 IEEE Honors Ceremony. “Fran,” as she is known, was also an IEEE Fellow, an ACM Fellow, and the first woman to receive the Turing Award for her work in high-performance computing.

The Allen Medal recognizes innovative work in computing leading to lasting impact on other fields of engineering, technology, or science and may be awarded to an individual or to a team of recipients or multiple recipients up to three in number. The prize consists of a gold medal, bronze replica, a certificate, and a cash prize. Nominations for this award will open in December 2020.


Fran attended the New York State College for Teachers (now the State University of New York at Albany) and earned a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in physics. She taught for two years at the same high school she had attended. After two years of teaching, Allen decided to continue her education and pursued her Master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan. While there, she took a handful of basic computing classes. When IBM interviewed potential candidates on campus, Fran signed up, was offered a position, and started working for IBM’s Research Division in 1957.

Since Fran had a background in teaching and IBM needed their Research Division to learn FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslation), the first high-level programming language, her first job at IBM was to teach FORTRAN. So she was learning it at the same time she was teaching it.

During the rest of her long career at IBM, Allen helped design and build Alpha, a very high-level code breaking language that featured the ability to create new alphabets beyond the system-defined alphabets. She designed and built the machine-independent, language-independent optimizing component of the Experimental Compiler for IBM’s Advanced Computing System (ACS), the result of which was a tool to help drive the hardware design and a new way to analyze and transform programs. Allen wrote a seminal paper on Program Optimization, first published in 1966, describing a robust new framework for implementing program analysis and optimization as well as a powerful set of new algorithms; a 1970 paper on Control Flow analysis that introduced the notion of “intervals” and node dominance relations, important improvements over the control flow abstractions given in her earlier paper; and her 1972 paper, “A Catalog of Optimizing Transformations,” which identified and discussed many of the transformations commonly used today.

To learn more about Allen’s life and career, you can read a transcript of an oral history conducted with her in 2001 by the IEEE History Center.

“Professionally, Fran spent a lifetime working to advance the field of computing and pioneer new breakthroughs. Personally, she was equally focused on inspiring and motivating young people – especially women – to do the same. Fran would be honored to accept this honor in the hopes that it would celebrate and inspire young men and women to pursue the next generation of challenges. ”—Mr. Ryan McKee, for the family of Fran Allen

“Fran Allen is a pioneering and visionary computer scientist who was a treasured mentor and friend for me and many others. Fran always aimed to make the world a better place, be it on a personal or professional level. It would delight her to know this award in her honor will help others gain recognition for their innovative and impactful contributions.”—Dr. Jeanne Ferrante, Professor Emerita, UC San Diego