Conte lecture focuses on 'Phase Transitions in Algorithms and Applications'

02-04-2015


The 2015 Computer Science Conte Distinguished Lecture looked the field’s role in collaborating with big data, physics and statistical analysis.

Dr. Dana Randall, Director of the Algorithms and Randomness Center, Advance Professor of Computing and Adjunct Professor of Mathematics at Georgia Tech, spoke Jan. 21 to a packed Room 1142 in Lawson Computer Science Building.

"Phase Transitions in Algorithms and Applications" focused on Markov chain Monte Carlo methods that have become ubiquitous across science and engineering as a means of exploring large configuration spaces.

“The idea is to walk among the configurations so that even though you explore a very small part of the space, samples will be drawn from a desirable distribution,” Randall stated. “Over the last 20 years there have been tremendous advances in the design and analysis of efficient sampling algorithms for this purpose, largely building on insights from statistical physics. One of the striking discoveries has been the realization that many natural Markov chains undergo a phase transition where they change from begin efficient to inefficient as some parameter of the system is modified.”

Randall introduced sampling techniques that can be used in many different fields that deal with large data sets.

“You have some large stuff that you’re studying and you want to know how behaves,” Randall said. “Often, getting samples will let you see some surprising behavior.”

Randall is a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society, a National Associate of the National Academies, and a former recipient of a Sloan Fellowship and an NSF Career Award.  She holds degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics from Harvard University and U.C. Berkeley.  Her research on randomized algorithms and sampling has helped create an interdisciplinary field bridging computer science, discrete probability and statistical physics.

Dr. Elena Grigorescu, an assistant professor of Computer Science, introduced her former colleague at Georgia Tech, where she worked as a postdoc: “She has made significant contributions to the area of randomized algorithms and sampling. She has helped create an interdisciplinary area at the intersection of computer science, probability and statistical physics.” 

In addition to teaching, co-founding and heading the Purdue Computer Science Department for 17 years, Professor Samuel D. Conte served as director of the Purdue Computing Center, a forerunner to ITaP, from 1962 to 1968. He was founder and co-director of the Software Engineering Research Center, established by the National Science Foundation as a joint effort between Purdue and the University of Florida to create a software engineering partnership between industries and universities.

Dr. Dana Randall

Dr. Dana Randall at the 2015 Conte Distinguished Lecture in Lawson Computer Science Building.

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