Associate professor of computer science Vijay Ramachandran simplifies his complicated work in an intriguing way.
Q: Your specialties include algorithms and data structures. Why do these areas interest you?
A: These fields are about building tools and techniques for efficient problem solving. Research from these fields is relevant to many different applications, and the results are often beautiful and practical at the same time. For example, in class, we discuss a simple technique that can be applied to ordering topics in a textbook or to crawling the World Wide Web.
In my research, I’ve used insights from work on conducting efficient, truthful auctions and applied them to Internet security. The work is a mix of mathematical modeling, logical reasoning, and being able to relate abstract ideas to the real world — what’s not to love?
Q: What is the goal of your research in Internet routing?
A: Just as there are different sets of roads that take you from Hamilton to New York City, there are multiple routes that a message on the Internet can take to get to its destination. Internet routing is the task of determining which route should be used in which situation. The Internet is a global network made up of various parts, which are managed by different companies and institutions.
My research has focused on interdomain routing, which attempts to establish routes between these various parts, taking into account the different concerns and priorities of the different managing entities. Routing methods have evolved over time, based on ideas from different companies, pieces of research, and experts. Without a good mathematical model, it’s hard to analyze whether a particular routing method achieves good results. My goal has been to work on such a model and use it to develop better routing techniques.
Q: And some of that research was for the federal government?
A: I’ve collaborated on a few projects sponsored by different Department of Defense agencies. A common theme has been to study how the protocols we use to route traffic on the commercial Internet will work on networks where some of the Internet’s properties don’t hold.
On the commercial Internet, contractual agreements between Internet service providers constrain route choices. In a military setting, those same constraints might not be in place, and this can reduce the effectiveness of the protocols we use. Thus, I was interested in exploring what routing techniques would be most effective in tactical settings.
Q: Now that you and President Jeffrey Herbst have developed and co-taught a course called Technology and Disruption, what’s next?
A: We both remain interested in the broader societal and economic changes induced by technology and are committed to helping students who are interested in pursuing careers in or related to the technology sector. This semester, he and I led some informal discussions about technology and disruption issues for students who will be working in this area.
Q: Where were you before coming to Colgate?
A: I did my undergraduate studies at Princeton, where I was a math major, then went to Yale for my PhD in computer science, and finally worked as a postdoctoral associate in Berkeley, California, and in Hoboken, New Jersey, before coming to Colgate.
Q: We heard you enjoy long-distance running. Where do you run?
A: The Hamilton area is a great place to run because it’s never too hot, the roads are never busy, and it’s a bit hilly, which is great for training. I live near Lake Moraine, and I enjoy
running routes around the lake.
Q: You and your wife enjoy cooking. Do you have a favorite dish or food you like to prepare?
A: We’re ‘samplers.’ That’s true when we go out to eat or when we cook at home. My wife is great at finding interesting recipes from many different styles of cuisine, and we like the variation of trying them all. We pick things that work seasonally, and make good use of the vegetables we grow. We’re often ready to experiment with anything.
— Interview by Omar Aquije; Photo by Andrew Daddio