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Northwest Probability Seminar 2012

Saturday October 13, 2012

This is the 14th Northwest Probability Seminar, a one-day mini-conference organized by the University of Washington, the Oregon State University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Oregon, and the Theory Group at Microsoft Research. This year the conference is being hosted at Microsoft.

Supported by Microsoft Research and the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS).

The Birnbaum Lecture in Probability will be given by Jeff Steif (Chalmers University of Technology). [Past Birnbaum speakers]

Geoffrey Grimmett (Cambridge), Asaf Nachmias (UBC), Douglas Rizzolo (UW), and Son Luu Nguyen (OSU) will also be speaking.

There is no registration fee. Participants are requested to email in advance so that adequate food may be arranged for. Breakfast, lunch, and coffee will be free.

The talks will take place in Building 99 at Microsoft. Parking at Microsoft is free.


9:45 - 11:15

Coffee and muffins
11:15 - 11:55  Asaf Nachmias
12:00 - 12:40  Douglas Rizzolo
12:45 - 1:45 Lunch (catered)
1:45 - 2:15 Probability demos
2:20 - 3:15

Birnbaum lecture  --  Jeff Steif, expository lecture on noise sensitivity

3:25 - 4:05 Son Luu Nguyen
4:10 - 4:35 Tea and snacks
4:35 - 5:15 Geoffrey Grimmett
6:00 - Dinner (no-host, at Haiku sushi & seafood buffet, downtown Redmond)


Talk abstracts

Jeff Steif (Chalmers University of Technology)
Title: Boolean Functions, Noise Sensitivity, Influences and Percolation
Abstract: Noise sensitivity concerns the phenomenon that certain types of events (Boolean functions) are sensitive to small noise. This topic is related to the notion of influence, which is a way to specify the importance of a particular variable on an event.  These concepts become especially interesting in the context of percolation theory. Some important tools in this area are discrete Fourier analysis and randomized algorithms in theoretical computer science.  In this lecture, I will give an overview of this subject.

Bio: JS received his PhD under Donald Ornstein at Stanford University in 1988. After postdocs at Rutgers and Cornell, he moved to Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden where he became professor in 1998. Later, he was professor at Georgia Institute of technology but returned to Sweden. His interests are percolation, Markov random fields, interacting particle systems and ergodic theory.

Asaf Nachmias (University of British Columbia)
Title: Recurrence of planar graph limits
Abstract: We prove that any distributional limit of finite planar graphs in which the degree of the root has an exponential tail is almost surely recurrent. As a corollary, we obtain that the uniform infinite planar triangulation and quadrangulation (UIPT and UIPQ) are almost surely recurrent, resolving a conjecture of Angel, Benjamini and Schramm.
Joint work with Ori Gurel-Gurevich.

Bio: Asaf is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. Before joining UBC he was a postdoc at Microsoft Research and at MIT.

Douglas Rizzolo (University of Washington)
Title: Schroeder's problems and random trees
In 1870 Schroeder introduced four problems concerning the enumeration of bracketings of words or sets of a given size. We will consider what uniform draws from these bracketings look like as the size of the word or set goes to infinity. Connections will be made to the recently developed theory of Markov branching trees as well as several types of conditioned Galton-Watson trees.
Joint work with Jim Pitman.

Bio: Douglas Rizzolo is a Research Associate and NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington. He received his doctoral degree in mathematics from UC Berkeley in 2012 under the supervision of Jim Pitman.

Son Luu Nguyen (Oregon State University)
Title: Linear-Quadratic-Gaussian Mixed Game with Continuum-Parametrized Minor Players
Abstract: We consider a mean field linear-quadratic-Gaussian game with a major player and a large number of minor players parametrized by a continuum set. The mean field generated by the minor players is approximated by a random process depending only on the initial state and the Brownian motion of the major player, and this leads to two limiting optimal control problems with random coefficients, which are solved subject to a consistent requirement on the mean field approximation. The set of decentralized strategies constructed from the limiting control problems has an epsilon-Nash equilibrium property when applied to the large but finite population model.
Joint work with Minyi Huang.

Bio: Son Nguyen obtained his Ph.D. from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, in July 2010. He finished his Ph.D. thesis with Professor George Yin. He was a research fellow at School of Mathematics & Statistics, Carleton University from September 2010 to August 2012. Currently, he is a research fellow at Mathematics Department, Oregon State University.

Geoffrey Grimmett (Cambridge University)
Title: The star-triangle transformation in probability theory
Abstract: The star-triangle transformation was `discovered' in 1899. It has since become one of the basic tools for studying disordered systems in two dimensions, and it is known amongst physicists as the `Yang-Baxter equation'. We shall explain its harmony with de Bruijn's theory of tilings and isoradial graphs, as developed by Kenyon and co-authors. Then we outline its use in proving universality for percolation in two dimensions.

Bio: GRG is Professor of Mathematical Statistics at Cambridge University. He is spending his sabbatical leave at Microsoft, where he hopes to continue and develop his collaborative activities.


From the north: Take I-5 south, then I-405 south, then WA-520 east.
From the south: Take I-5 north, then I-405 north, then WA-520 east.
From Seattle: Take WA-520 east.
By airplane: Fly to Seattle's airport, take I-405 north, then WA-520 east.

From WA-520 east, take the 148th Ave NE North exit (this is the second 148th Ave NE exit). Turn right (north) onto 148th Ave NE, proceed a few blocks, and turn right onto NE 36th St. Building 99 will be on the left. The address is 14820 NE 36th St, Redmond, WA 98052-5319. Click here for a map.


Many people make the NW Probability Seminar a day trip, but for those wishing to stay longer, some nearby hotels include

  • Homestead Studio Suites (probably the best choice)
    15805 NE 28th Street
    Bellevue, WA 98008
    (425) 885-6675
  • Silver Cloud Inn
    10621 NE 12th Street
    Bellevue, WA 98004
    (800) 205-6937
  • Courtyard Marriott (extremely close)
    14615 NE 29th Place
    Bellevue, WA 98007
    (425) 869-5300
  • Fairfield Inn Marriott (extremely close)
    14595 NE 29th Place
    Bellevue, WA 98007
    (425) 869-6548
  • Residence Inn Marriott-Redmond
    7575 164th Ave NE
    Redmond, WA 98052
    (425) 497-9226
  • Silver Cloud Inn (near the University of Washington in Seattle)
    5036 25th Avenue NE
    Seattle, WA 98105
    (800) 205-6940
  • University Inn (near the University of Washington)
    4140 Roosevelt Way NE
    Seattle, WA 98105
    (800) 733-3855
  • Watertown (near the University of Washington)
    4242 Roosevelt Way NE
    Seattle, WA 98105
    (866) 944-4242

Microsoft Research