New York University’s Subhash Khot, an associate professor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, has received the National Science Foundation’s 2010 Alan T. Waterman Award, which is given annually to an outstanding young researcher in any field of science and engineering supported by NSF. The honor includes a grant of $500,000 over three years for scientific research or advanced study in any field of science.
Khot is a theoretical computer scientist and works in an area called “Computational Complexity” which seeks to understand the power and limits of efficient computation.
“Subhash Khot is a gifted and ambitious young scientist,” said NSF Director Arden L. Bement, Jr. “He courageously tackles some of the most challenging computational problems, all the while advancing computer security, with vast consequences for the broader security of our personal identities, commercial interests, societal institutions...even for national security as a whole.”
“Subhash is a brilliant theoretical computer scientist and is most well known for his Unique Games Conjecture,” added Jeannette Wing, assistant director for NSF’s Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate. “He has made many unexpected and original contributions to computational complexity and his work draws connections among optimization, computer science, and mathematics.”
A fundamental phenomenon in computer science is the existence of computational problems that cannot be solved fast—that is, they are “computationally intractable.” This has far-reaching consequences. For instance, it limits our ability to tackle large-scale problems arising in science and engineering, such as optimal design of protein folding. On the other hand, it makes computer security possible as computational intractability prevents hackers from accessing personal information stored in online databases. Understanding and addressing this phenomenon, therefore, has huge potential benefits for science and engineering. Khot has made significant inroads to identifying computational intractability. He has uncovered a problem about probabilistic games called “the Unique Games Problem.” His work shows that it lies at the core of a variety of intractable computational problems.
The award, established in 1975, recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by the National Science Foundation. This is the third time an NYU professor has won the award. Gang Tian, a professor formerly at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, received the honor in 1994, and sociologist Dalton Conley, NYU’s dean for the social sciences, was the winner in 2005.
Khot has received an NSF CAREER Award, a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and a Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship. With his colleagues at NYU, Princeton, Rutgers University, and the Institute for Advanced Study, he is part of a $10 million, NSF “Expeditions in Computing” grant under which the researchers are seeking to bridge fundamental gaps in our understanding of computational intractability.
Khot has a bachelor’s degree (1999) from Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and doctorate (2003) in computer science from Princeton University. Currently an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Courant Institute, Khot was previously an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology (2004-07).