Georgia Tech Computer Science Professor Santosh Vempala

New Director Named for One of the Country's Top Interdisciplinary Math Ph.D. Programs

As one of the best discrete mathematics and combinatorics graduate programs in the country, Georgia Tech’s Algorithms, Combinatorics, and Optimization (ACO) doctoral program has long been known for its excellence and rigor. 

Newly appointed director Santosh Vempala plans to both “ensure that the program maintains its high quality — and make it desirable for a diverse student population.”

“The ACO program is special both at Georgia Tech and in the world,” shares Vempala, who serves as professor and Frederick G. Storey Chair in the College of Computing with joint appointments across the School of Computer ScienceSchool of Mathematics, and the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISYE). “The community of students, thanks to the dedicated and insightful work of previous directors, is thriving, both while they are here at Georgia Tech and after they graduate. They have been exceptionally successful.”

Founded in 1991, the ACO program is housed jointly across the College of Computing, the School of Mathematics in the College of Sciences, and ISYE in the College of Engineering. Focused on topics like graph theory, algorithms, discrete optimization — and the interplay between the three — the program has deeply embraced its multidisciplinary nature, essentially eliminating “the traditional walls that usually separate academic units” by encouraging faculty members to advise students regardless of departmental affiliation.

ACO “brings together three disciplines that are fundamentally related,” Vempala explains. “Its course structure enables students to understand phenomena from all three perspectives and learn to use tools from all of them.” 

Vempala has been involved with the ACO program since he joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2006, advising many students in ACO, as well as serving on committees within the program. 

“Professor Vempala's experience at Georgia Tech, including his prior service as associate director of the ACO program, means that he is uniquely qualified to serve as director,” shares David Collard, professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and senior associate dean in the College of Sciences. “The program is highly regarded nationally and internationally. It attracts superb students from around the world and provides exceptional educational opportunities. I look forward to its continued success under professor Vempala's leadership." 

Meet Santosh Vempala

Vempala received his Ph.D. in Algorithms, Combinatorics, and Optimization at Carnegie Mellon University before spending a year as a Miller Fellow at University of California, Berkeley and a decade as a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Upon joining the faculty at Georgia Tech, Vempala served as the founding director of Tech’s Algorithms and Randomness Center.  He is a fellow of both the Association for Computing Machinery and the American Mathematical Society.

Describing his research as “studying the nature of computation, and its limits,” Vempala’s work ranges from theoretical to applied. Often entailing searching for efficient algorithms to solve fundamental mathematical and computational problems, his work also has applications such as trying to understand the problem-solving capabilities of the brain. “The best possible algorithms for basic problems — such as solving linear systems and linear programming — are still waiting to be discovered,” he says.

Along with continuing ACO’s longstanding record of research and academic excellence, Vempala is also keen to foster community and another ‘factor’ across the ACO community.

“I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in Computer Science, Mathematics, and ISyE, to building an atmosphere of scientific collegiality and open curiosity for faculty and students, and to having more social events with a high fun factor.” 

In addition to research and leading ACO, Vempala is an active instructor who teaches Computability and Algorithms, Machine Learning Theory, Optimization and Sampling, and Computation and the Brain courses across campus.

“Teaching takes a lot of effort for me with an hour of lecture needing several hours of preparation, but it is consistently rewarding — each lecture is an opportunity to understand something better; each student is an opportunity to see something from a new angle.”

Learn more about the Algorithms, Combinatorics, and Optimization Ph.D. program at Tech.

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