Yale Computer Scientist Wins Prestigious Nevanlinna Prize

Daniel Spielman, professor of computer science and applied mathematics at Yale University, has won the Rolf Nevanlinna Prize, one of the highest honors in the field of mathematics. The prize is awarded every four years during the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), which was held this year in Hyderabad, India from August 19-27.

Indian President Pratibha Patil presented Spielman with the award at the opening ceremony of the ICM, where other prizes including the Fields Medal were also awarded. The Nevanlinna Prize recognizes researchers under the age of 40 for "outstanding contributions in mathematical aspects of information sciences," including such areas as algorithm analysis, cryptography, pattern recognition and information processing.

Spielman's research focuses on several areas, including devising new algorithms to solve linear equations more efficiently. Mathematicians use linear equations to describe a wide variety of phenomena in areas ranging from physics to biology to the social sciences. As data sets continue to grow to unprecedented levels, solving such equations as quickly and efficiently as possible will become even more important, Spielman said. One example he points to is analyzing connections in social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

In the past, Spielman's research has also included work on error-correcting codes, which involves ways to reliably transmit data when there is interference, such as when using cell phones or reading data from CDs, as well as smoothed analysis, which focuses on how to analyze and measure the performance of different algorithms.

"We at Yale are thrilled that Daniel has been recognized with the Nevanlinna Prize. His research in computer science has greatly advanced the understanding and application of algorithms," said Abraham Silberschatz, the Sidney J. Weinberg Professor of Computer Science and chair of the department at Yale. "We are privileged to have such a talent in our computer science department."

Despite past honors that include the 2002 IEEE Information Theory Paper Award, the 2008 Gödel Prize and the 2009 Fulkerson Prize, Spielman was shocked to learn he had won the Nevanlinna Prize.

"The same way that physicists grow up dreaming about winning the Nobel Prize, I've dreamed of winning the Nevanlinna Prize ever since I was a graduate student," Spielman said. "I was in shock when Laci Lovasz, the president of the international mathematical union, called me up to tell me that I had won. I had to hear him say it a few times before I believed him. It is an incredible honor. Many of my heroes have won this prize."

The Rolf Nevanlinna Prize was established by the International Mathematical Union in 1981 in honor of Finnsh mathematician Rolf Nevanlinna, and consists of a gold medal and a cash prize.