Ankur Moitra named a 2016 Packard Fellow

MIT Associate Professor Ankur Moitra
MIT Associate Professor Ankur Moitra

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Ankur Moitra, the Rockwell International Career Development Associate Professor of Mathematics, was named a 2016 David and Lucile Packard Fellow. Each of this year’s 18 award recipients will receive a five-year, unrestricted research grant totaling $875,000.

“The mathematics department is extremely proud and happy that Ankur has received this well-deserved honor,” said Tomasz Mrowka, head of the Department of Mathematics and the Singer Professor of Mathematics at MIT. “He is the dream colleague: He is deeply intellectually curious, makes fundamental contributions to his discipline, and is an important part our teaching mission.”

Moitra will use the funds to support his research on algorithmic aspects of machine learning. Modern machine learning is built on techniques — like deep learning — that work well in practice, but for which we have little rigorous understanding. His research aims to bridge the gap between theoretical computer science and machine learning by developing algorithms with provable guarantees and foundations for reasoning about their behavior.

"This is wonderful recognition for Ankur,” said Michel Goemans, the Leighton Family Professor of Mathematics and Moitra’s faculty mentor. “This Packard fellowship will allow him to continue his cutting-edge research on a solid, mathematical understanding of why certain commonly used algorithms work or fail to work, and whether they behave in a robust manner under random or adversarial interference."

The Packard Foundation established its fellowships program in 1988 to provide early-career scientists with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields. Each year, the foundation invites 50 universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration. The Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel, a group of 12 internationally-recognized scientists and engineers, evaluates the nominations and recommends fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation is a private family foundation created by David Packard, cofounder of the Hewlett-Packard Company.