Jayanti receives new professorship

by Amelia Acosta | 10/26/10 10:00pm

Editor's Note: This is the third installment in a four-part series profiling professors who were recently awarded endowed chairs.

During his 17 years at Dartmouth, computer science professor Prasad Jayanti has balanced his "two loves" of research and teaching, and has succeeded in both. He has done so by developing the most efficient algorithm for problems of simultaneous computation and by raising the bar for teaching standards in his department.

"For me, there is immense beauty in math and science," Jayanti said. "Allowing the students to see that beauty gives me joy and gives them joy."

Earlier this month, Jayanti was honored with the James Frank Family Professorship to mark his contributions to the Dartmouth student body and computer science department. He has also received an Alfred Sloan Research Fellowship and the Dartmouth Distinguished Teacher Award.

Jayanti's research involves creating concurrent algorithms and managing the difficulty in synchronizing various computers that are attempting to coordinate their work.

"Imagine my wife and I are trying to make simultaneous withdrawals from a shared bank account with a balance of $500 while I'm here in Hanover and she's in New York," he said, as an example. "If our requests for withdrawals from the ATM go to the server at the same time, we could end up both withdrawing $500. Imagine if this sum were $5 million, and we could have a real disaster."

His research involves designing efficient algorithms to handle these synchronizational difficulties for institutions like banks.

"Understanding these problems, clearly specifying them, designing protocols to handle coordination and sometimes even proving that it's impossible to design correct protocols for these problems that's the kinds of things we do," he said.

Jayanti has also worked extensively on a computation problem known as the Snapshot Problem an attempt to analyze a large chunk of computer memory that can only be read piece by piece and that is simultaneously being edited and altered by other users. He likened this problem to attempting to photograph the entirety of the Green at a single moment in time.

"You can only capture one piece of the Green at a time and then hope to stitch all the photographs together, but by the time you move from one place to another, things have changed," Jayanti said. "Similarly, if you want a snapshot of an entire section of memory in the midst of chaotic activity of writing, how do you do it? That's what this problem asks."

Jayanti has designed the most efficient algorithm to date to address this problem, he said.

In class, Jayanti is considered a talented professor with a dynamic teaching style, according to Vibhor Bhatt, who is pursuing a doctorate in computer science at Dartmouth.

"He's one of the best teachers I've ever sat in class with, and he has a great knack for making complex things very simple and very fun," he said.

Bhatt said he has worked with Jayanti for the past four and a half years. "As a colleague and an advisor, he's really made sure I grow as a computer scientist and a researcher," Bhatt said. "He's treated me like his son, and our relationship is more or less like family."

Thomas Cormen, the chair of the computer science department, said he has known Jayanti since his arrival at Dartmouth in 1993.

"As a teacher, he's just so enthusiastic and inspiring," Cormen said. "Students love to take his course. I think students would take a course where all he did was read his shopping list: he's such an engaging lecturer."

Jayanti is the best the department has to offer, according to Cormen.

"I consider myself a good teacher," Cormen said. "But I know that as long as I'm in a department with [Jayanti] I am not the best and there's no shame in that."