For the quick and precise solution to complex computer calculations

Christiaan Huygens Science Award goes to Bart Jansen’s PhD research

On 25 June, Minister Dr Jet Bussemaker of Education, Culture and Science  presented the Christiaan Huygens Science Award to Dr Bart Jansen for his PhD research he conducted at Utrecht University’s Department of Information and Computing Sciences. In his research, Jansen laid the scientific foundation for reduction rules of complex computer calculations, allowing these calculations to be made more quickly and yet precise. Reduction rules are applied to many mathematical problems, ranging from calculating an optimal route for a parcel service to research into new medicinal products.

The jury commended Jansen’s dissertation for its ‘consistent high quality’. His work also became known internationally in a very short period of time and has now even been included in the reference work of the ‘founding fathers’ of this discipline. A total of 33 candidates were nominated for the award which comes with a cash prize of 10,000 euros and a bronze statuette of Christiaan Huygens.

From art to science

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 these cases, rules of thumb are applied to find an approximately correct answer. If a precise answer is needed, reduction rules are applied to simplify the calculation. Up till now, it was not clear why a particular reduction rule was effective for a mathematical problem.

Jansen came up with a methodology to develop and select the right reduction rules, which makes the solution both precise and relatively quick.  “With my approach, I turned the art of using reduction rules into a science”, he summarises.

Parcel service

One example of such a mathematical problem is planning the route for a parcel service which has to be both quick and cost-effective. If the entire road network in the Netherlands has to be included in a calculation in order to find the best order of delivery, this will take a lot hours of computing. With Jansen’s methodology, it is now possible to leave out a significant number of roads, as it can be mathematically proved that they will never be part of the most optimal route. This means that much less processing power and memory is required to calculate the most efficient route.

Moore’s Law

”Moore’s Law suggests that processing power doubles every few years, but we now seem to be reaching the limits of technical improvements. Therefore, it is important to simplify calculations in order to speed up the software, instead of the hardware. The proper application of reduction rules can lower processing times by a factor of one thousand. But the application of reduction rules is still in its infancy and my research therefore should be seen as a starting point rather than an end point”, says Jansen.

Bart Jansen

Bart Jansen (1986) studied Information and Computing Sciences at Utrecht University and obtained both his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree cum laude. He obtained his doctoral degree on 1 June 2013 with his dissertation The Power of Data Reduction: Kernels for Fundamental Graph Problems. His PhD Supervisor was Prof. Jan van Leeuwen and his Co-Supervisor was Dr Hans Bodlaender.

Jansen currently works as a postdoc at the University of Bergen, Norway.

The Christiaan Huygens Science Award

The Christiaan Huygens Science Award is presented annually to a researcher whose doctoral dissertation has made an innovative contribution to science with an eye for social relevance. The award is presented in one of the five different research disciplines that have been able to develop thanks 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 jury is composed of KNAW members from the discipline concerned.

The Christiaan Huygens Science Award is supported by the European Space Agency/ESTEC, Shell, IBM and De Nederlandsche Bank.

More information

Monica van der Garde, Press Officer of the Faculty of Science, m.vandergarde@uu.nl, 06 13 66 14 38.