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Nancy Lynch- A Theoretical View of Distributed Systems

About this event

Talk Abstract: For several decades, my collaborators, students, and I have worked on theory for distributed systems in order to understand their capabilities and limitations in a rigorous, mathematical way. This work has produced many different kinds of results, including:

• Abstract models for problems that are solved by distributed systems, and for the algorithms used to solve them

• Rigorous proofs of algorithm correctness and performance properties (also some error discoveries),

• Impossibility results and lower bounds, expressing inherent limitations of distributed systems,

• Some new algorithms, and

• General mathematical foundations for modeling and analyzing distributed systems.

These various results have spanned many different kinds of systems, ranging from distributed data-management systems to communication systems, to biological systems such as insect colonies and brains.  

In this talk, I will overview some highlights of our work over many years on theory for distributed systems. I will break this down in terms of three intertwined “research threads”: algorithms for traditional distributed systems, impossibility results, and mathematical foundations. In the end, I will say something about our recent work on algorithms for new kinds of distributed systems.


Bio: Nancy Lynch is the NEC Professor of Software Science and Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.  She heads the Theory of Distributed Systems research group in MIT's CS and AI Laboratory (CSAIL). 

Lynch received her B.S. from Brooklyn College and her PhD from MIT, both in mathematics.  She has written and co-written hundreds of research articles about distributed algorithms and impossibility results, and about formal modeling and verification of distributed systems.  Her best-known contribution is the 1982 ``FLP'' impossibility result for distributed consensus in the presence of process failures, with Fischer and Paterson, followed by a paper with Dwork and Stockmeyer on algorithms for reaching consensus under restricted failure assumptions. Other major contributions include the I/O automata system modeling frameworks, with Tuttle, Kaynar, Segala, and Vaandrager, as well as more recent results on wireless network algorithms and biological distributed algorithms. 

Lynch is the author of the textbook ``Distributed Algorithms'' and co-author of ``Atomic Transactions'' and ``The Theory of Timed I/O Automata''.  She is an ACM Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of both the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering.  She has been awarded the Dijkstra Prize (twice), the van Wijngaarden prize, the Knuth Prize, the Piore Prize, and the Athena Prize.  She has supervised 30 PhD students and similar numbers of master’s students and postdocs, many of whom have themselves become research leaders.

Register in advance for this webinar:


Or an H.323/SIP room system:

    H.323: (US West) or (US East)

    Meeting ID: 161 549 0161

    Passcode: 987868

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After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. 

Livestream YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d09azty_CWo