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Microsoft researcher Tour Chayes to be awarded honorary doctorate at Dies Natalis

On 8 February 2016, Dr Jennifer Tour Chayes, Director of Microsoft Research in Boston and New York, will be presented with a Leiden honorary doctorate by Frank den Hollander, Professor of Probability Theory and Statistical Physics.

Top researcher

Dr. Jennifer Tour Chayes
Dr Jennifer Tour Chayes

Den Hollander says he is extremely honoured that Tour Chayes has accepted the honorary doctorate. ‘She is an international top researcher in statistical physics, stochastics and discrete mathematics, and has been producing ground-breaking work for the past thirty years. She has also played a central role in launching an internationally highly successful research group at Microsoft. Under her leadership, great breakthroughs have been achieved in the field of complex networks. And she is an international spokeswoman for the position of women in science.’ 

Summa cum laude

Tour Chayes (US, 1956) graduated in physics and biology from the Wesleyan University in Connecticut with the distinction ‘summa cum laude’, following which she went on to complete a PhD in Physics at Princeton University. Following her graduation she worked at Harvard University, Cornell University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). During her years at UCLA she collaborated on many breakthroughs in the study of phase transitions, in particular percolation theory and the theory of many-body systems. These discoveries have led to her enjoying great respect among both physicists and mathematicians.

Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft

In 1997 Tour Chayes joined Microsoft as a senior researcher and head of the Theory Group. In addition, until 2008 she continued to hold the position of Professor at the University of Washington. Over time, Tour Chayes progressed to her current position, which she has held since 2012: General Director of Microsoft Research in Boston and New Your City. In 2010 the Microsoft Corporation distinguished her with the honorary title of Distinguished Scientist.

Widely acclaimed

Tour Chayes’ work has received many accolades. She is a fellow of the American Mathematical Society and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2015 she was awarded the John von Neumann Lecture Award, the highest distinction of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. This consistent homage reveals that Tour Chayes is also an important role model in the US. For instance, she is the recipient of no fewer than nine tributes to her achievements as a successful female scientist. She was and remains a much sought-after administrator: she has held the position of Vice President of the American Mathematical Society and President of the Mathematics Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with an important focus on stimulating young talent and helping women in their scientific career. 

Always a scientist 

In addition to her positions at Microsoft, Tour Chayes has always kept one foot in academia. After giving up her academic position at the University of Washington, she has continued to publish with unabated frequency and intensity. She has given lectures throughout the world and has been involved in co-organising many academic conferences. 

(25 November 2015)