MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2003

Erik D. Demaine

Computer Scientist and Mathematician

Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Age: 22 at time of award

Published October 5, 2003
Portrait of Erik D. Demaine

Erik Demaine is a young computer scientist who has already established a reputation for tackling and solving difficult problems. Although he actively pursues projects related to many areas of computer science, such as parallel processing architectures and algorithm complexity, Demaine is noted for his research in computational geometry. Recently, he collaborated on a proof of a long-standing conjecture known as the “carpenter’s rule,” which asserts that all closed polygons with non-crossing connections can be made convex (i.e., straightened out, roughly) without breaking or changing the relative length of the connections. This work reflects his broader interest in problems related to folding and bending. Such problems hold implications for both abstract mathematics and practical issues such as manufacturing methods. Demaine moves readily between the theoretical and the playful, with a keen eye to revealing the former in the latter. For example, he recently demonstrated that a popular computer game, Tetris, represents an example of a computational geometry problem that falls into the “NP-complete” category, implying explosive growth in difficulty with no shortcuts available. Demaine has also invented problems and solutions related to other areas of recreational mathematics (e.g., origami, combinatorial games). Through his eclectic choices for research topics and his prodigious and prolific output, Demaine has demonstrated an appetite for challenges that cross disciplinary boundaries and a capacity to synthesize ideas from disparate approaches.

Erik Demaine received a B.Sc. (1995) from Dalhousie University and an M.Math. (1996) and Ph.D. (2001) from the University of Waterloo. In 2001, he became an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and in the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT. Demaine has presented more than 50 papers at national and international conferences, published dozens of articles in professional publications, written chapters for five books, and co-edited two books. He is currently co-authoring a book, Folding and Unfolding in Computational Geometry.


High-resolution photos for download. Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Right-click on a link below to save the file to your computer.

About the Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn More

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Playwright, Composer, and Performer

Class of 2015

Review Affirms Impact and Inspiration of MacArthur Fellows Program thumbnail

Review Affirms Impact and Inspiration of MacArthur Fellows Program

“We are proud of the Fellows Program and its impact on the lives of not just those selected but people all over the world." Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows program. Read More
"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’" thumbnail

"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’"

Commentary by Cecilia Conrad originally published in the Washington Post Read More