2018 Colloquium, Wednesdays

The Spring 2018 Colloquium will take place every Wednesday from 4:30 to 5:30 at CMSA, 20 Garden Street, G10.

The schedule below will be updated as speakers are confirmed.

Date………… Speaker Title
02-09-2018 *Friday        Fan Chung


Sequences: random, structured or something in between

There are many fundamental problems concerning sequences that arise in many areas of mathematics and computation. Typical problems include finding or avoiding patterns;

testing or validating various `random-like’ behavior; analyzing or comparing different statistics, etc. In this talk, we will examine various notions of regularity or irregularity for sequences and mention numerous open problems.

02-14-2018 Zhengwei Liu

(Harvard Physics)

A new program on quantum subgroups

Abstract: Quantum subgroups have been studied since the 1980s. The A, D, E classification of subgroups of quantum SU(2) is a quantum analogue of the McKay correspondence. It turns out to be related to various areas in mathematics and physics. Inspired by the quantum McKay correspondence, we introduce a new program that our group at Harvard is developing.

02-21-2018 Don Rubin


Essential concepts of causal inference — a remarkable history

Abstract: I believe that a deep understanding of cause and effect, and how to estimate causal effects from data, complete with the associated mathematical notation and expressions, only evolved in the twentieth century. The crucial idea of randomized experiments was apparently first proposed in 1925 in the context of agricultural field trails but quickly moved to be applied also in studies of animal breeding and then in industrial manufacturing. The conceptual understanding seemed to be tied to ideas that were developing in quantum mechanics. The key ideas of randomized experiments evidently were not applied to studies of human beings until the 1950s, when such experiments began to be used in controlled medical trials, and then in social science — in education and economics. Humans are more complex than plants and animals, however, and with such trials came the attendant complexities of non-compliance with assigned treatment and the occurrence of “Hawthorne” and placebo effects. The formal application of the insights from earlier simpler experimental settings to more complex ones dealing with people, started in the 1970s and continue to this day, and include the bridging of classical mathematical ideas of experimentation, including fractional replication and geometrical formulations from the early twentieth century, with modern ideas that rely on powerful computing to implement aspects of design and analysis.

02-26-2018 *Monday Tom Hou


Computer-assisted analysis of singularity formation of a regularized 3D Euler equation

Abstract: Whether the 3D incompressible Euler equation can develop a singularity in finite time from smooth initial data is one of the most challenging problems in mathematical fluid dynamics. This question is closely related to the Clay Millennium Problem on 3D Navier-Stokes Equations. In a recent joint work with Dr. Guo Luo, we provided convincing numerical evidence that the 3D Euler equation develops finite time singularities. Inspired by this finding, we have recently developed an integrated analysis and computation strategy to analyze the finite time singularity of a regularized 3D Euler equation. We first transform the regularized 3D Euler equation into an equivalent dynamic rescaling formulation. We then study the stability of an approximate self-similar solution. By designing an appropriate functional space and decomposing the solution into a low frequency part and a high frequency part, we prove nonlinear stability of the dynamic rescaling equation around the approximate self-similar solution, which implies the existence of the finite time blow-up of the regularized 3D Euler equation. This is a joint work with Jiajie Chen, De Huang, and Dr. Pengfei Liu.

03-07-2018 Richard Kenyon


Harmonic functions and the chromatic polynomial

Abstract: When we solve the Dirichlet problem on a graph, we look for a harmonic function with fixed boundary values. Associated to such a harmonic function is the Dirichlet energy on each edge. One can reverse the problem, and ask if, for some choice of conductances on the edges, one can find a harmonic function attaining any given tuple of edge energies. We show how the number of solutions to this problem is related to the chromatic polynomial, and also discuss some geometric applications. This talk is based on joint work with Aaron Abrams and Wayne Lam.

03-28-2018 Andrea Montanari (Stanford) A Mean Field View of the Landscape of Two-Layers Neural Networks

Abstract: Multi-layer neural networks are among the most powerful models in machine learning and yet, the fundamental reasons for this success defy mathematical understanding. Learning a neural network requires to optimize a highly non-convex and high-dimensional objective (risk function), a problem which is usually attacked using stochastic gradient descent (SGD).  Does SGD converge to a global optimum of the risk or only to a local optimum? In the first case, does this happen because local minima are absent, or because SGD somehow avoids them? In the second, why do local minima reached by SGD have good generalization properties?

We consider a simple case, namely two-layers neural networks, and prove that –in a suitable scaling limit– the SGD dynamics is captured by a certain non-linear partial differential equation. We then consider several specific examples, and show how the asymptotic description can be used to prove convergence of SGD to network with nearly-ideal generalization error. This description allows to `average-out’ some of the complexities of the landscape of neural networks, and can be used to capture some important variants of SGD as well.
[Based on joint work with Song Mei and Phan-Minh Nguyen]



04-04-2018 Ramesh Narayan 


Black Holes and Naked Singularities

Abstract: Black Hole solutions in General Relativity contain Event Horizons and
Singularities. Astrophysicists have discovered two populations of
black hole candidates in the Universe: stellar-mass objects with
masses in the range 5 to 30 solar masses, and supermassive objects
with masses in the range million to several billion solar
masses. There is considerable evidence that these objects have Event
Horizons. It thus appears that astronomical black hole candidates are
true Black Holes. Direct evidence for Singularities is much harder to
obtain since, at least in the case of Black Holes, the Singularities
are hidden inside the Event Horizon. However, General Relativity also
permits Naked Singularities which are visible to external
observers. Toy Naked Singularity models have been constructed, and
some observational features of accretion flows in these spacetimes
have been worked out.

04-11-2018 Pablo Parrilo


Graph Structure in Polynomial Systems: Chordal Networks

Abstract: The sparsity structure of a system of polynomial equations or an optimization problem can be naturally described by a graph summarizing the interactions among the decision variables. It is natural to wonder whether the structure of this graph might help in computational algebraic geometry tasks (e.g., in solving the system). In this lecture we will provide a gentle introduction to this area, focused on the key notions of chordality and treewidth, which are of great importance in related areas such as numerical linear algebra, database theory, constraint satisfaction, and graphical models. In particular, we will discuss “chordal networks”, a novel representation of structured polynomial systems that provides a computationally convenient decomposition of a polynomial ideal into simpler (triangular) polynomial sets, while maintaining its underlying graphical structure. As we will illustrate through examples from different application domains, algorithms based on chordal networks can significantly outperform existing techniques. Based on joint work with Diego Cifuentes (MIT).

04-18-2018 Washington Taylor


On the fibration structure of known Calabi-Yau threefolds

Abstract: In recent years, there is increasing evidence from a variety of directions, including the physics of F-theory and new generalized CICY constructions, that a large fraction of known Calabi-Yau manifolds have a genus one or elliptic fibration. In this talk I will describe recent work with Yu-Chien Huang on a systematic analysis of the fibration structure of known toric hypersurface Calabi-Yau threefolds. Among other results, this analysis shows that every known Calabi-Yau threefold with either Hodge number exceeding 150 is genus one or elliptically fibered, and suggests that the fraction of Calabi-Yau threefolds that are not genus one or elliptically fibered decreases roughly exponentially with h_{11}. I will also make some comments on the connection with the structure of triple intersection numbers in Calabi-Yau threefolds.

04-25-2018  Xi Yin



How we can learn what we need to know about M-theory

Abstract: M-theory is a quantum theory of gravity that admits an eleven dimensional Minkowskian vacuum with super-Poincare symmetry and no dimensionless coupling constant. I will review what was known about M-theory based on its relation to superstring theories, then comment on a number of open questions, and discuss how they can be addressed from holographic dualities. I will outline a strategy for extracting the S-matrix of M-theory from correlation functions of dual superconformal field theories, and in particular use it to recover the 11D R^4 coupling of M-theory from ABJM theory.


For information on previous CMSA colloquia, click here.

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