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New Faculty Focus: Matthew D. Sinclair

After discovering a passion for computer architecture while an undergrad at UW, Sinclair returns to campus to teach in the Department of Computer Sciences.

by Katie Vaughn November 12, 2018
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Matthew D. Sinclair 

Title: Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Hometown: Brookfield, Wisconsin 

Educational and professional background:

Bachelor’s degrees: Computer Sciences and Computer Engineering with Honors, UW-Madison, 2009

Master’s degree: Electrical Engineering (Concentration: Computer Engineering), UW-Madison, 2011

PhD: Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2017

Post-doc: AMD Research, 2017-2018

How did you get into your field of research?

My area of expertise within computer science is computer architecture, which at a high level looks at how to design future computer processors. My interest in this area started with a class I took as an undergrad here at UW-Madison, CS/ECE 552, taught by Professor Karu Sankaralingam. In particular, this course had a class project where we designed a processor. Working on this project piqued my interest in computer architecture.

What attracted you to UW-Madison?

Wisconsin has a world-class faculty in computer architecture that has repeatedly produced foundational research throughout the past seven decades. In the 1940s and 1950s, people like Gene Amdahl and Charlie Davidson did work at UW that laid the groundwork for the entire field of digital computing. In subsequent decades, people like James Goodman (emeritus), Mark Hill, Karu Sankaralingam, Guri Sohi, David Wood (emeritus) and many others have built on this proud tradition. Of course, they had a lot of help from some amazing graduate students who have gone onto do great work elsewhere – including my advisor (at the University of Illinois) Sarita Adve, who did her PhD here with Mark Hill. Thus, I was attracted to return to UW by the amazing, talented colleagues, the strong students and the opportunity to continue the legacy of computer architecture research at Wisconsin.

What was your first visit to campus like?

My first visit to campus was as a 17-year-old junior in high school. I was shadowing my cousin, who was a few years older than me.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?

Computer architecture is a fascinating area to work in. I hope students taking my courses will come to love computer architecture as much as I do.

Moreover, I think understanding how the hardware behaves is extremely important, even for computer science majors who prefer other things like writing programs. I have several friends who work in the software and video game industries, and every time I talk with them, they tell me how important understanding the hardware is to do their jobs effectively.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.

Computers have and will continue to revolutionize our society. Twenty years ago, the idea of laptops or smartphones may have seemed implausible. But now it’s a ubiquitous reality. By repeatedly making processors smaller, faster and cheaper, Moore’s Law and computer architecture has been driving many of these innovations, which permeate all facets of life in Wisconsin. Thus, although much of my research is not immediately visible to others, I do feel that it relates to the Wisconsin Idea.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?

One of my specific areas of interest in computer architecture is heterogeneous computing, which looks at how to use many different processors (such as CPUs and GPUs) together to do things even faster and more efficiently. Finding ways to better integrate these devices may allow the trend from the past decades of faster, smaller and cheaper devices to continue.  

Hobbies/other interests:

I’ve played volleyball competitively my whole live, including playing on the club team at UW-Madison during my undergrad and master’s years. I also enjoy doing triathlons (especially biking).