Monthly Archives: January 2017

Top University Rankings

MIT has been honored with 12 No. 1 subject rankings in the QS World University Rankings for 2017.

MIT received a No. 1 ranking in the following QS subject areas: Architecture/Built Environment; Linguistics; Computer Science and Information Systems; Chemical Engineering; Civil and Structural Engineering; Electrical and Electronic Engineering; Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering; Chemistry; Materials Science; Mathematics; Physics and Astronomy; and Economics.

Additional high-ranking MIT subjects include: Art and Design (No. 2), Biological Sciences (No. 2), Earth and Marine Sciences (No. 5), Environmental Sciences (No. 3), Accounting and Finance (No. 2), Business and Management Studies (No. 4), and Statistics and Operational Research (No. 2).

Quacquarelli Symonds Limited subject rankings, published annually, are designed to help prospective students find the leading schools in their field of interest. Rankings are based on research quality and accomplishments, academic reputation, and graduate employment.

MIT has been ranked as the No. 1 university in the world by QS World University Rankings for five straight years.

Summaries of online discussions

From Reddit to Quora, discussion forums can be equal parts informative and daunting. We’ve all fallen down rabbit holes of lengthy threads that are impossible to sift through. Comments can be redundant, off-topic or even inaccurate, but all that content is ultimately still there for us to try and untangle.

Sick of the clutter, a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed “Wikum,” a system that helps users construct concise, expandable summaries that make it easier to navigate unruly discussions.

“Right now, every forum member has to go through the same mental labor of squeezing out key points from long threads,” says MIT Professor David Karger, who was senior author on a new paper about Wikum. “If every reader could contribute that mental labor back into the discussion, it would save that time and energy for every future reader, making the conversation more useful for everyone.”

The team tested Wikum against a Google document with tracked changes that aimed to mimic the collaborative editing structure of a wiki. They found that Wikum users completed reading much faster and recalled discussion points more accurately, and that editors made edits 40 percent faster.

Karger wrote the new paper with PhD students Lea Verou and Amy Zhang, who was lead author. The team presented the work last week at ACM’s Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Portland, Oregon.

How it works

While wikis can be a good way for people to summarize discussions, they aren’t ideal because users can’t see what’s already been summarized. This makes it difficult to break summarizing down into small steps that can be completed by individual users, because it requires that they spend a lot of energy figuring out what needs to happen next. Meanwhile, forums like Reddit let users “upvote” the best answers or comments, but lack contextual summaries that help readers get detailed overviews of discussions.

Wikum bridges the gap between forums and wikis by letting users work in small doses to refine a discussion’s main points, and giving readers an overall “map” of the conversation.

Readers can import discussions from places such as Disqus, a commenting platform used for publishers like The Atlantic. Then, once users create a summary, readers can examine the text and decide if they want to expand the topic to read more. The system uses color-coded “summary trees” that show topics at different levels of depth and lets readers jump between original comments and summaries.

“Our aim is to harness collaborative summarization to save th

Algorithms to improve computer networks

Daniel Zuo came to MIT with a plan: He wanted to study algorithms and one day to become a research professor.

The senior has more than accomplished the former goal, conducting innovative research on algorithms to reduce network congestion, in the Networks and Mobile Systems group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). And, as he graduates this spring with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering and a master’s in engineering, he is well on his way to achieving the latter one.

But Zuo has also taken some productive detours from that roadmap, including minoring in creative writing and helping to launch MakeMIT, the nation’s largest “hardware hackathon.”

The next step in his journey will take him to Cambridge University, where he will continue his computer science research as a Marshall Scholar.

“The Marshall affords me the opportunity to keep exploring for a couple more years on an academic level, and to grow on a personal level, too,” Zuo says. While studying in the Advanced Computer Science program at the university’s Computer Laboratory, “I’ll be able to work with networks and systems to deepen my understanding and take more time to explore this field,” he says.

Algorithms to connect the world

Zuo fell in love with algorithms his first year at MIT. “It was exactly what I was looking for,” he says with a smile. “I took every algorithms course there was on offer.”

His first research experience, the summer after his freshman year, was in the lab of Professor Manolis Kellis, head of the Computational Biology group at CSAIL. Zuo worked with a postdoc in Kellis’ group to use algorithms to identify related clusters of genes in a single cell type within a specific tissue. “We ended up coming up with a pretty cool algorithm,” he says.

As a research assistant for TIBCO Career Development Assistant Professor Mohammad Alizadeh, Zuo is now working on cutting-edge algorithms for congestion control in networks, with a focus on “lossless” data networks.

Modern computer network applications need to be able to transmit large amounts of data quickly, without losing information. Zuo likens the situation to a congested traffic light. When there are too many messages queuing at the light, some information just gets dropped.

“When the traffic light starts to get too full, I can send a packet back upstream that says ‘Wait, if you’re going to send me something, don’t,’” he explains. But sending that signal can create a new problem: a “back-propagation” of even more pauses, and more congestion upstream. Zuo’s algorithms aim to solve both of these problems, ensuring that sent data are never lost and that “traffic lights” don’t become too crowded.

“The idea is we can create a network that never drops a packet of information. I’ve been exploring how to do congestion-control algorithms on these lossless networks, which are becoming more popular,” he says.

Reducing congestion to achieve truly lossless networks could free up a lot of system space and funding for software developers that typically goes to toward maintaining data centers.

“Making communicating within a network more efficient and more reliable can open the door to having more wireless connections across the world,” Zuo says.

Wireless access point towers are ‘leapfrogging’ fiber optic cable in some rural parts of the developing world, he says. Algorithms like his could lower the costs and improve the efficiency of those connections — thereby reducing some key barriers to connectivity in far-flung places. “It’s a long-term goal, and it’s why I’m interested in this field.”

“We’re one of the most connected societies in the world,” he says. “But there are so many places in the world that don’t have this ability. Even if you have amazing ideas, you don’t have access to get your voice heard.”

The programs earn top marks from US

U.S. News and World Report has again placed MIT’s graduate program in engineering at the top of its annual rankings, continuing a trend that began in 1990, when the magazine first ranked such programs.

The MIT Sloan School of Management also placed highly; it shares with Stanford University the No. 4 spot for the best graduate business program.

This year, U.S. News also ranked graduate programs in the social sciences and humanities. The magazine awarded MIT’s graduate program in economics a No. 1 ranking, along with Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and Yale University.

Among individual engineering disciplines, MIT placed first in six areas: biomedical/bioengineering (tied with Johns Hopkins University — MIT’s first-ever No. 1 U.S. News ranking in this discipline); chemical engineering; computer engineering; electrical/electronic/communications engineering; materials engineering; and mechanical engineering (tied with Stanford). The Institute placed second in aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering (tied with Georgia Tech) and nuclear engineering.

In the rankings of graduate programs in business, MIT Sloan moved up one step from its No. 5 spot last year. U.S. News awarded a No. 1 ranking to the school’s specialties in information systems and production/operations, and a No. 2 ranking for supply chain/logistics.

U.S. News does not issue annual rankings for all doctoral programs but revisits many every few years. In its new evaluation of programs in the social science and humanities, the magazine gave MIT’s economics program a No. 1 ranking overall and either first- or second-place rankings for all eight economics specialties listed. MIT’s political science and psychology programs also placed among the top 10 in the nation.

In the magazine’s 2014 evaluation of PhD programs in the sciences, five MIT programs earned a No. 1 ranking: biological sciences (tied with Harvard and Stanford); chemistry (tied with Caltech and Berkeley, and with a No. 1 ranking in the specialty of inorganic chemistry); computer science (tied with Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford, and Berkeley); mathematics (tied with Princeton University, and with a No. 1 ranking in the specialty of discrete mathematics and combinations); and physics.

U.S. News bases its rankings of graduate schools of engineering and business on two types of data: reputational surveys of deans and other academic officials, and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research, and students. The magazine’s less-frequent rankings of programs in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities are based solely on reputational surveys.