back to news Feb. 16, 2015

Mathematician/Computer Scientist Granted NSF CAREER Award for “Geometric frontiers in algorithm design”

Anastasios (Tasos) Sidiropoulos, assistant professor, mathematics; and computer science engineering, has received a five-year, $500, 921 NSF CAREER Award for his project, “Geometric frontiers in algorithm design.”

The CAREER Award is the top award given by the National Science Foundation to support the work of the nation’s most promising junior faculty members. Those selected exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellence in teaching and the integration of education and research within the context of their organization's mission.

This is the third CAREER Award for ASC researchers in 2015 — a remarkable achievement considering the highly competitive nature of these national awards. Chemist Hannah Shafaat received a CAREER award in January. Mathematician Daniel Thompson received a CAREER award in February.

Now, Anastasios (Tasos) Sidiropoulos, joins this elite group.

His CAREER award funds a project that will look at the use of diverse mathematical tools in the setting of geometric data analysis, forging new connections between mathematics and computer science. It aims to resolve some of the main problems inherent in the analysis of such geometric data sets, facilitating improved solutions for a variety of computational tasks.

“The area I am working in — developing new mathematical methods that can do what people want and need them to do, quickly and efficiently — is rapidly evolving," Sidiropoulos said.  "Engineering in itself is not enough, one needs to develop new mathematical tools.

“But, mathematics and all of science — have always been engaged in a hand-in-hand dialogue — developing parallel to each other since their conception. And, as scientists study new problems, mathematicians are needed to develop new tools.”

As the ability to collect massive, multifaceted and sometimes seemingly unrelated amounts of data has accelerated, the need for mathematicians who can wrangle them into relevant bits that can be extracted, managed and applied — and do it quickly and efficiently — has accelerated in tandem.

"The analysis of complex data sets is a task of increasing importance for science and engineering,” Sidiropoulos said. “In many applications there is an abundance of raw inputs so being able to extract meaningful information from them is often a major computational challenge.

“As we record more and more data, we know that somewhere in there lies any answer that we care to extract — eventually.

“The key is to be able to do it quickly and efficiently. And, in many complex systems there are no simple underlying rules for extracting information efficiently.”

However, in recent years, geometric methods have become an indispensable tool for working toward this goal.

“The reason,” Sidiropoulos said, “is that a data set endowed with pairwise similarities can be naturally interpreted as a geometric space.”

And, he continued, “There is no end to such data sets. They include DNA sequences, statistical distributions, collections of news articles and almost anything else you care to name.

“Using this interpretation, several important data analytics questions can be understood as geometric, computational problems. The main algorithmic challenges in this context occur in high-dimensional, or more generally, complex metric spaces.”

Sidiropoulos received his PhD from MIT and came to Ohio State September 2013 to accept a joint appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Mathematics and the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science Engineering.

“Ohio State is wonderful and the math department here is really good,” he said. “And being able to put my skills in mathematics and computer science together to address evolving problems seemed like a perfect fit for me.

Sidiropoulos plans to use the educational component of his project to introduce two undergraduate students to research. One of the students will be supported as part of the Ohio State Summer Research Program (SROP) for African American, Native American, Hispanic, first-generation, low income rising juniors and seniors.

His grant’s outreach funding will allow him to develop presentations for the STEAM Factory at 400 W. Rich Street, along with lectures in other venues, to make his work more accessible to the public.

“Ultimately, what we do,” Sidiropoulos said, “is not about us. It’s about — we hope — having a positive effect on the rest of the world and solving some problems for which answers previously had been out of reach.”

—Sandi Rutkowski

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