Daniel Spielman shares inaugural Ciprian Foias Prize in Operator Theory

Yale computer science, statistics and data science, and mathematics professor Daniel Spielman helped solve a problem that had vexed mathematicians for decades.
Daniel Spielman

Daniel Spielman

Yale’s Daniel Spielman, Sterling Professor of Computer Science, professor of statistics and data science, and professor of mathematics, who helped solve a problem that had vexed mathematicians for decades, is co-recipient of the inaugural Ciprian Foias Prize in Operator Theory from the American Mathematical Society (AMS).

Spielman shares the award with Adam W. Marcus of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and Nikhil Srivastava of the University of California-Berkeley, longtime collaborators with whom he started working while they were all at Yale.

The award recognizes their highly original work that introduced and developed methods for understanding the characteristic polynomial of matrices, namely the iterative sparsification method (also in collaboration with [Joshua] Batson [’08]) and the method of interlacing polynomials,” the AMS said in its announcement of the award on Dec. 2.

Earlier this year, Spielman, Marcus, and Srivastava were awarded the prestigious Michael and Sheila Held Prize from the National Academy of Sciences for this work.

The trio received international attention after publishing new constructions of Ramanujan graphs, which describe sparse but highly-connected networks, and a solution to what is known as “the Kadison-Singer problem,” a decades-old problem that asks whether unique information can be gleaned from a system in which only some of the features can be observed or measured. The solution has relevance for a number of fields, including pure mathematics, the mathematical foundations of quantum physics, and computer science.

Spielman, Marcus, and Srivastava began working on these questions in 2009 when they were all at Yale.

I feel privileged to have been able to work with Adam and Nikhil during this time,” Spielman said. “Adam’s bet [that the group would solve the Kadison-Singer problem] provided a strong motivation for us to keep working even when success seemed distant. I would not have been able to maintain this effort without the support of my wife, Donna Marland, who asks, ‘What problem are you going to work on this vacation?’”

The Ciprian Foias Prize in Operator Theory, which will be awarded every three years, honors notable work in operator theory published in a recognized, peer-reviewed venue.

Spielman is a 1992 summa cum laude graduate of Yale. He joined the Yale faculty in 2006 as a professor of applied mathematics and computer science.

In 2012, he received a MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the “genius” grant, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He was awarded the 2010 Rolf Nevanlinna Prize from the International Mathematical Union, the 2009 Fulkerson Prize, and, on two occasions, the Gödel Prize for outstanding papers in the area of theoretical computer science.

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