A New ACO Center!
Last week, I helped launch an ACO Center (Algorithms, Combinatorics and Optimization) at my wonderful new home, UC Irvine. There are only two other such centers, at CMU and Georgia Tech (29 and 27 years old, respectively). My personal belief is that there will be more in the future. Let me justify.
When I joined Georgia Tech in 1995, my research was centered around approximation algorithms, a topic that resonated with its ACO Center. I was able to build on this interest in numerous ways: by offering new versions of courses on this topic as new results emerged, attracting to GT, for the first time, a large number of top theory PhD students who went on to produce stellar results and start impressive careers of their own. Course notes accumulated over the years eventually lead my book on the topic in 2001. Right after that, I switched to algorithmic game theory, and again ACO became the center of that activity, this time resulting in a co-edited book which had a huge impact on the growth of this area. In short, ACO gave me a lot! In turn, I believed in it and I worked for it wholeheartedly.
I still believe in ACO and I feel it is very much relevant in today’s research world. Similar to the other two ACOs, our Center at UCI also exploits the natural synergies among TCS researchers from the CS Department, probability and combinatorics researchers from the Math Department, and optimization researchers from the Business School. Additionally, our Center has grown well beyond these boundaries to include a highly diverse collection of faculty (e.g., from the prestigious Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences) whose common agenda is to utilize the “algorithmic way of thinking”, which is set to revolutionize the sciences and engineering over the course of this century, just as mathematics did in the last. The Center website has further details about its vision and activities.
Many universities are in a massive hiring mode today (especially in CS), e.g., UCI plans to hire 250 new faculty over the next five years. Centers such as ours present the opportunity of hiring in a more meaningful manner around big themes. They can also be instrumental in attracting not only top students but also top faculty.
A center of excellence such as GT’s ACO does not simply spring up by itself; it requires massive planning, hard work, good taste and able leadership. For the last, I will forever be indebted to Robin Thomas for his highly academic, big vision, classy leadership style which was the main reason ACO remained such a high quality program for so long. Moving forward, will we stay with three ACO Centers or will there be more? I believe the latter, but only time will tell.