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Lexing Ying, professor of mathematics, awarded James H. Wilkinson Prize

Professor of mathematics Lexing Ying received the James H. Wilkinson Prize for distinguished advances in the fields of scientific computing and numerical analysis from The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) at their annual meeting on July 9.

Ying’s research focuses on creating algorithms to solve problems through computational mathematics, and his undertakings have been applied in problems regarding high-frequency waves.

“Essentially you have some kind of equations coming from physics and mathematically want to solve them,” Ying said. “You have to represent these problems using discrete structures and numbers…and solve it efficiently and accurately with a computer and try to interpret it to see what it means physically.”

According to SIAM President Irene Fonseca, Ying was a perfect match for the James H. Wilkinson Prize, which is awarded once every four years to a young researcher who has had at most 12 years of experience in mathematics since the conferral of their Ph.D.

“What we look for is for relatively young researchers who have made outstanding contributions in the past six years to the mathematical area of scientific computing and numerical analysis,” Fonseca said. “That’s how we came to Lexing Ying.”

Ying said that he was surprised to be notified of his win.

“[The president of SIAM] called me up and told me I got the award,” Ying said. “I was surprised and very happy.”

The prize came with $1,000 and the opportunity to deliver a lecture at the SIAM annual meeting. Ying’s lecture, titled “Interpolative Decomposition and Novel Operator Factorization,” was a highlight of the five-day annual meeting, according to Fonseca.

“He was phenomenal,” Fonseca said. “It was very interesting and very well-attended. It was a half-hour lecture but actually he could have certainly had an hour-long lecture. The crowd was very excited about his results.”

During the selection process for the award, each applicant passes through a series of steps before the final decision is made.

“We receive nominations from the community at large and then the prize committee will then select who they think should be the awardee,” Fonseca said. “It’s a recommendation to the vice president…who in turn will send it to me.”

Fonseca noted several of Ying’s previous recognitions — his acceptance of a Sloan Research Fellowship in 2007, a National Science Foundation award in 2009 and a prize in scientific computing from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2011 — as one of the reasons for his selection.

“Lexing Ying is relatively young professor but he has a long list of other recognitions and awards,” Fonseca said. “He has been recognized before SIAM but he’s definitely on the path for many other prizes in the future.”

Having moved to Stanford last December from his previous position as an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, Ying is still adjusting to the new environment.

“The University has been quite helpful and the department has been quite helpful and I appreciate that a lot,” Ying said. “But I still need time to settle down so right now I haven’t devoted 100 percent of time to research.”

In the near future, Ying plans to develop his current research and apply it on a wider scale.

“For the work that I just presented at the SIAM annual meeting I want to extend that and make it more usable to people outside my field,” Ying said. “I want to make it kind of like a software that other people can just download and apply to their problem.”

Still, he has yet to decide which topic to focus his research on in future.

“Every two or three years I focus on one topic and try to solve some interesting problems and make some interesting contributions, but after that it’s a whole new learning experience,” Ying said.

“I think the best thing to do is…to step out of your comfort zone to try to look for new topics so I’m looking forward to that,” Ying added.

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