Alexia Massalin

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Alexia Massalin
Born Henry Massalin
(1962-01-01)January 1, 1962
Astoria, Queens, New York
Residence United States
Citizenship United States
Nationality United States
Fields Operating systems, optimizing compilers
Institutions MicroUnity Systems Engineering, Inc.
Alma mater Cooper Union School of Engineering, B.S. M.S., 1984
Columbia University, Ph.D., computer science, 1992
Thesis Synthesis: An Efficient Implementation of Fundamental Operating System Services (1992)
Doctoral advisor Calton Pu
Known for Superoptimization

Alexia Massalin (formerly Henry Massalin) is an American computer scientist and programmer. She pioneered the concept of superoptimization,[1][2] and designed the Synthesis kernel, a small kernel with a Unix compatibility layer that makes heavy use of self-modifying code for efficiency.[3][4]

Life and Career[edit]

After high school, she was given a scholarship to the Cooper Union School of Engineering in Manhattan, where she obtained a bachelor's and master's degree.[5][6] She went to obtain her Ph.D. in computer science from Columbia University in 1992, studying under professor Calton Pu.

In October 1992, Dr. Massalin joined MicroUnity as a research scientist, where she became responsible for signal-processing modules and software architecture.[7]


Dr. Massalin's first breakthrough product came while studying at Columbia. Massalin developed Synthesis, an operating system kernel that allocated resources, ran security and low-level hardware interfaces, and created executable code to improve performance.[8] Synthesis optimized critical operating system code using run-time information, which was a new insight previous thought impractical.[9] To support Synthesis, Massalin invented object-like data structures called Quajects, which contain both data and code information.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Her parents were Croatian refugees from Trieste. In the 1940s, they moved Astoria, Queens, New York, where her father became a construction worker.[11]

In a 1996 article in Wired magazine, the author Gary Andrew Poole said she "could be the Einstein of our time."[12] She was well known for offering piggy back rides to people she met, which included notable computer scientists such as Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, and artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky—quite a dignified claim to fame from her former classmates' perspectives.[13]


  1. ^ Massalin, Alexia Henry (1987). Randy Katz, ed. "Superoptimizer: a look at the smallest program" (PDF). Proceedings of the second international conference on Architectural support for programming languages and operating systems: 122–126. doi:10.1145/36206.36194. ISBN 0-8186-0805-6. Retrieved 2012-04-25. Lay summary (1995-06-14). Given an instruction set, the superoptimizer finds the shortest program to compute a function. Startling programs have been generated, many of them engaging in convoluted bit-fiddling bearing little resemblance to the source programs which defined the functions. The key idea in the superoptimizer is a probabilistic test that makes exhaustive searches practical for programs of useful size. 
  2. ^ "Qua". Wired. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 
  3. ^ Massalin, Alexia Henry (1992). Synthesis: An Efficient Implementation of Fundamental Operating System Services (PDF) (Ph.D. thesis). Columbia University New York, NY, USA. UMI Order No. GAX92-32050. Retrieved 2012-04-25. Lay summary (2008-02-20). [O]perating systems can provide fundamental services an order of magnitude more efficiently than traditional implementations. 
  4. ^ Henson, Valerie. "KHB: Synthesis: An Efficient Implementation of Fundamental Operating Systems Services". Retrieved 27 October 2016. 
  5. ^ "Company: MicroUnity". Retrieved 11 May 2012. 
  6. ^ "Qua". Wired. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 
  7. ^ "Company: MicroUnity". Retrieved 11 May 2012. 
  8. ^ "Qua". Wired. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 
  9. ^ "Qua". Wired. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 
  10. ^ Henson, Valerie. "KHB: Synthesis: An Efficient Implementation of Fundamental Operating Systems Services". Retrieved 27 October 2016. 
  11. ^ "Qua". Wired. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 
  12. ^ "Qua". Wired. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 
  13. ^ Poole, Gary Andrew (1998-12-24). "In the Land of the Weird, Standing Out Takes a Little Work". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-02-09. 

There is work Alexia is still doing today such as the broadband microprocessors. This is on the research side of her work.