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Yin Tat Lee receives Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship

Portrait of Yin Tat Lee wearing glasses, a white dress shirt, and grey and black patterned tie

Professor Yin Tat Lee of the Allen School’s Theory of Computation group has been named a 2019 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow. Since 2005, Microsoft has used its Faculty Fellowship program to recognize promising, early-career researchers whose exceptional research talent makes them emerging leaders in their fields. Lee, who joined the University of Washington faculty in 2017, is one of only five recipients selected by Microsoft this year from universities and colleges across North America.

Lee was recognized for his research in theoretical algorithms, convex optimization, convex geometry, spectral graph theory, and online algorithms — work that Microsoft Research considers among some of the most exciting areas of computer science research today. “While I devote my energy on theoretical algorithmic research such as how to solve some decades- or even centuries-old problems faster, I am often surprised how much these ideas can be used to solve difficult modern problems,” Lee told the company. “Theoretical computer scientists are like particle physicists, instead of understanding the limits of physics, we understand the limits of computation. Although it looks impractical for outsiders, it often leads to important useful results.”

This focus on advancing the theoretical underpinnings of computation with real-world applications has been a recurring theme in Lee’s early work. Since joining the University of Washington faculty three years ago, Lee has earned earned a Best Paper Award at the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2018) for presenting new algorithms for achieving optimal convergence rates for optimizing non-smooth convex functions in distributed networks, and a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for his work on more efficient algorithms for solving convex and other optimization problems. As part of that project, Lee aims to advance the scientific community’s understanding of the relationship between convex geometry and optimization algorithms and improve upon current optimization techniques, the results of which will have broad impact across the sciences and in many other fields. Last summer, Lee collected the A.W. Tucker Prize from the Mathematical Optimization Society for his Ph.D. thesis exploring how to combine and improve upon existing optimization techniques to produce faster algorithms for solving a range of problems underpinning the theory and practice of computing.

The Faculty Fellowship comes with an unrestricted annual gift of $100,000 for two years to enable recipients like Lee to pursue their breakthrough research. Lee and his fellow honorees were selected as part of a rigorous, multi-tier process based on their pursuit of cutting-edge research, a demonstrated ability to communicate complex concepts, and the skills required to turn their ideas into impact. Past fellowship winners include Allen School faculty members Shwetak Patel (2011), Luis Ceze (2009), and Magdalena Balazinska (2007).

Read the Microsoft Research announcement here, and learn more about the 2019 Fellows here.

Congratulations, Yin Tat!