Microsoft's Math Genius Talks Shop, Opens New Lab
It's all about phase transitions, psychology
By Jonas Oransky,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2008 2:50 PM CST
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates speaks at Memorial Auditorium at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – When Microsoft hired math professor Jennifer Chayes 11 years ago, the company couldn’t have realized how prescient they were, to the degree that her high-level research would impact applications as diverse as search, keyword advertising, and social networks. “Who would have thought?” Chayes tells Technology Review in a Q&A as she gears up to become managing director of Microsoft’s forthcoming northeastern lab.

One analogy Chayes uses compares phase shifts in the physical world (liquid to solid, gaseous to liquid, etc.), to transitions in the computer science vernacular. Playing off the concept that constraints can shift suddenly, and therefore require a new set of resources, she notes, helped develop faster computer science algorithms. Next up, Chayes wants mathematicians to start talking with psychologists: “I’m not an expert in what people want.”