SIAM News Blog

Prize Spotlight: David F. Gleich

David F. Gleich of Purdue University was awarded the SIAM Outstanding Paper Prize at the 2018 SIAM Annual Meeting in recognition of his paper, “PageRank Beyond the Web,” SIAM Review, Volume 57, Issue, 3 (2015).

David F. Gleich

The SIAM Outstanding Paper Prize is awarded to the authors of the three most outstanding papers, in the opinion of the selection committee, published in SIAM journals in the three calendar years preceding the year before the award year. Priority is given to papers that bring a fresh look at an existing field or that open up new areas of applied mathematics.

David F. Gleich is the Jyoti and Aditya Mathur Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at Purdue University. He graduated from Harvey Mudd College with a joint degree in computer science and mathematics (2004). He received his PhD from Stanford University's Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering (ICME) in 2009. His research is on novel models and fast large-scale algorithms for data-driven scientific computing, including scientific data analysis, bioinformatics, and network analysis. Gleich is committed to making software available based on his research and has written software packages such as MatlabBGL with thousands of users worldwide. His research is funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

Q: Why are you excited to receive this prize?

A: I’m particularly excited to be winning the SIAM Outstanding Paper Prize for this paper as it seeks to tie together tens or maybe even hundreds of threads of related research across a wide variety of communities. The paper illustrates how the mathematics behind Google’s PageRank algorithm has been recognized and used by others in many diverse applications – from road networks to biology, chemistry, neuroscience, physics, sports, and computer systems. I hope the award induces a few more people to read the paper and enjoy the wonderful mathematics of PageRank!

Q: Could you tell us a bit about the research that won you the prize?

A: First, what are PageRank models? Think about your social network, that is, your friends and the connections among them (this is what Facebook collects). Or think of the web, that is, webpages and how you move among them by following hyperlinks. Mathematically, we can abstract these distinct settings as networks where there are a set of objects that are connected to each other via some type of relationship. So for Facebook, the objects are people and the connections are based on friendship. On the web, the objects are pages and the connections are based on clickable hyperlinks. A PageRank model is a way of taking those networks of data and answering questions like “what seems to be the most important part of the network” or “what is the most important part of the network nearby a given area.”

I worked on PageRank models during my PhD thesis and saw a few different examples of how they could be applied in a variety of places. That is, there is no sense in which the networks need to be social networks or networks from the web. For my thesis, I worked on one problem (originally posed in a paper by Desmond J. Higham and colleagues) called GeneRank, which used a network of protein interactions. Over time, I built up a collection of papers and references that all used the PageRank idea across an extremely diverse literature. 

Around 2013, it seemed there was a need to point out all these different applications and some of the new ideas that were buried in this literature as well as the mathematics that unified them. I spent some time from 2013 to 2014 writing the paper and adding more references, and in 2014 I submitted it for publication.

David F. Gleich (right) of Purdue University was awarded the SIAM Outstanding Paper Prize from SIAM President Nick Higham (left) at the 2018 SIAM Annual Meeting.

Q: What does your research mean to the public?

A: PageRank is one of those elegant ideas that captured the imagination of people across the world at all levels as it was commonly understood to be a fundamental ingredient in Google's search engine that makes it so useful! I claim that you can actually explain the idea to grade-school children and they will understand the key idea. This makes it an incredible introduction to mathematics beyond the arithmetic and drills that are so common in school.

Q: What does being a SIAM member mean to you?

A: I love being a SIAM member. It is a most welcoming scientific community that seeks to foster research and ideas along a wide range of dimensions. The conferences are always a pleasant chance to catch up with colleagues and meet new people. And the journals are widely regarded as the top places to publish!

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