The Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker, has presented the Christiaan Huygens Science Award to Bart Jansen of Utrecht University for his doctoral research. ‘Thanks to his work, we will be able to perform faster calculations in the near future. Quite apart from the scientific merit of this work, it will benefit society by saving time and money and improving effectiveness,’ according to the Academy’s jury.
In his research, Jansen used ‘reduction rules’ to lay the scientific foundations for the simplification of complex computer calculations, allowing them to be performed more quickly but without affecting precision. Reduction rules are applied to many mathematical problems, from calculating the best route for a parcel delivery service to research into new medicinal products.
The Christiaan Huygens Science Award encourages innovative research in the disciplines in which Christiaan Huygens excelled. This year the focus is on information and communication technology (ICT), with IBM actively supporting the organisation and presentation of the award. A total of 33 candidates were nominated. The award consists of a bronze statuette of Christiaan Huygens and a cash prize of EUR 10,000.
From art to science
The Academy-appointed jury praised Jansen’s dissertation for its ‘consistently high quality’. Jansen has quickly established his international reputation and his work has already been included in a standard work by the ‘founding fathers’ of his discipline. Although computers are becoming faster and have more and more processing power, some mathematical problems are so complex that it still takes years for computers to solve them. In such cases, rules of thumb are often applied to find an approximate answer. If a precise answer is needed, reduction rules are used to simplify the calculation. Jansen came up with a methodology for developing and selecting the right reduction rules for a given problem. Thanks to his approach, the solution is precise and the necessary calculation time is kept within reasonable limits. ‘I’ve turned the art of using reduction rules into a science,’ he summarises.
Parcel delivery service
One example of a complex mathematical problem is planning the route for a parcel delivery service. The route has to be quick and require as little fuel as possible. Including the entire Dutch road network in a calculation in order to find the best order of delivery would take many hours of computing. Jansen’s methodology makes it possible to leave out a significant number of roads because it can be mathematically shown that they will never form part of the most efficient route. Calculating the optimal route thus requires much less processing power and memory.
‘Moore’s Law suggests that processing power will double every few years, but we now seem to be reaching the limits of technical progress. That’s why it’s important to simplify calculations in order to speed up the software, instead of the hardware. When properly applied, reduction rules can decrease processing times by a factor of one thousand. But the use of reduction rules is still in its infancy and so my research should be considered a starting point, rather than an end point,’ says Jansen.
Bart Jansen (1986) studied Information and Computing Sciences at Utrecht University and obtained both his Bachelor’s and Master’s cum laude. He was awarded his PhD on 1 June 2013 for his dissertation The Power of Data Reduction: Kernels for Fundamental Graph Problems. His PhD supervisor was Jan van Leeuwen and his co-supervisor was Hans Bodlaender. Jansen currently works as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bergen, Norway.
The jury for the Christiaan Huygens Science Award is appointed on an annual basis and consists of members of the Academy and The Young Academy. Jury chairman Ronald Cramer, who won the first Christiaan Huygens Science Award in 1998, is Cryptology group leader at the Center for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI) in Amsterdam and a professor at the Mathematical Institute, Leiden University. The other jury members were Inald Lagendijk, professor of Information and Communication Theory at Delft University of Technology, and Bettina Speckmann, professor of Information Science at Eindhoven University of Technology.
Christiaan Huygens Science Award
The Christiaan Huygens Science Award is presented annually to a researcher whose doctoral research has made an important and socially relevant contribution to science. Each year, the award is presented in one of the five different research disciplines that owe their development to the work of Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695): actuarial studies and econometrics, theoretical and applied physics, space studies, information and communication technology, and economics.
The Christiaan Huygens Science Award is supported by the European Space Agency/ESTEC, Shell, IBM, DNB (Netherlands’ Central Bank) and Aegon.