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Leonard M Adleman

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Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Henry Salvatori Chair in Computer Science


  • 1976, PhD, Computer Science, UC - Berkeley
  • 1968, Bachelors, Other Mathematics, UC - Berkeley


Adleman was born in California. He grew up in San Francisco and attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his BA degree in mathematics in 1968 and his Ph.D. degree in EECS in 1976. In 1994, his paper Molecular Computation of Solutions To Combinatorial Problems described the experimental use of DNA as a computational system. In it, he solved a seven-node instance of the Hamiltonian Graph problem, an NP-complete problem similar to the travelling salesman problem. While the solution to a seven-node instance is trivial, this paper is the first known instance of the successful use of DNA to compute an algorithm. DNA computing has been shown to have potential as a means to solve several other large-scale combinatorial search problems.

He coined the neologism "computer virus".

In 2002, he and his research group managed to solve a 'nontrivial' problem using DNA computation. Specifically, they solved a 20-variable SAT problem having more than 1 million potential solutions. They did it in a manner similar to the one Adleman used in his seminal 1994 paper. First, a mixture of DNA strands logically representative of the problem's solution space was synthesized. This mixture was then operated upon algorithmically using biochemical techniques to winnow out the 'incorrect' strands, leaving behind only those strands that 'satisfied' the problem. Analysis of the nucleotide sequence of these remaining strands revealed 'correct' solutions to the original problem.

For his contribution to the invention of the RSA cryptosystem, Adleman, along with Ron Rivest and Adi Shamir, has been a recipient of the 1996 Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award and the 2002 ACM Turing Award, often called the Nobel Prize of Computer Science. Adleman was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006.

He is one of the original discoverers of the Adleman–Pomerance–Rumely primality test.

Fred Cohen, in his 1984 paper, Experiments with Computer Viruses has credited Adleman with coining the term "virus".

He was also the mathematical consultant on the movie Sneakers.

Adleman is also an amateur boxer and has sparred with James Toney.

He is also widely referred to as the Father of DNA Computing. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences.

Currently, Adleman is working on the mathematical theory of Strata.

Research Summary



  • 1978 IEEE Group on Information Theory Best paper award
  • 1991 University of Southern California, School of Engineering Senior Research Award
  • 1995 University of California, Berkeley, Department of Computer Science and Engineering Distinguished Alumnus Award
  • 1996 ACM ACM Paris Kanallakis Award for Theory and Practice
  • 1996 National Academy of Engineering Elected to the National Academy of Engineering
  • 1997 MIT RSA Chair
  • 2000 University of Southern California Distinguished Professor
  • 2000 IEEE IEEE Kobayashi Award
  • Computer Science

  • RTH 501
  • Ronald Tutor Hall of Engineering
  • 3710 McClintock Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089
  • USC Mail Code: 0781

  • (213) 740-6490

  • adleman@pollux.usc.edu

CV Link

Research Website

Personal Website

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