Posted by Kelly Berschauer

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The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has a history of conducting successful student competitions during its major conferences, so it was only fitting that when Microsoft Research Connections and Microsoft Research Silicon Valley were considering hosting a similar event in the latter’s Mountain View, Calif., facility focused on research, they should turn to the ACM model.

The student research competition, hosted in conjunction with the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, based at the University of California, Berkeley, was held March 25 with the goal of connecting local students with local research organizations around the globe. Arjmand Samuel, senior research program manager for Microsoft Research Connections, indicated that he hopes the event serves as a precursor to a trend.

“The Silicon Valley competition,” Samuel says, “is the first of what we hope are many more competitions to come.”

Eight Ph.D. students from UC Berkeley and Stanford University were selected to participate in the competition, which featured papers submitted with the theme of "theory of computing and its applications." Submissions ranged from error-correcting codes for storage to privacy and security for big data, and from connectivity and clustering in social graphs to probabilistic dynamics for physical systems.

Antonio Blanca of UC Berkeley, who presented Mixing Behavior of the Heat-Bath Dynamics in the Mean Field Random-Cluster Model, took top honors in the competition. Nihar Shah, also from UC Berkeley, claimed the silver medal with Codes for Reliable and Efficient Distributed Storage, and Stanford’s Valeria Nikolaenko won the bronze, with her work on Privacy-Preserving Ridge Regression on Hundreds of Millions of Records.

Omer Reingold, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, served as a judge for the competition, along with Kunal Talwar, a researcher also at Microsoft Research’s Silicon Valley facility, and Richard Karp, a UC Berkeley professor, director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, and winner of the A.M. Turing Award in 1985.

Congratulations to all!