Nobel Laureate Roth To Address Honors Convocation Feb. 28

Issue Date: 
February 10, 2014

Alvin E. Roth, cowinner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in economics, will be the keynote speaker at the University of Pittsburgh’s 38th annual Honors Convocation, to be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 28 in Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. All members of the University community are invited to attend. 

Honors Convocation recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of Pitt alumni, faculty, staff, and students. Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg will preside over the celebratory event. He will bestow an honorary doctoral degree on Roth, who began and completed much of the economics research for which he won the Nobel Prize while serving as Pitt’s first Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Economics from 1982 to 1998. Roth is now the Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics at Stanford University and the George Gund Professor of Economics and Business Administration Emeritus at Harvard University.

“The University’s Honors Convocation recognizes the significant achievements of Pitt people who are pursuing academic, scholarly, and professional excellence in their fields,” said Chancellor Nordenberg. “Our friend and former colleague Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth is an exemplary representative of the legacy of excellence that the University of Pittsburgh has established and upon which it continues to build. It will be a special pleasure to welcome him back to Pitt.” 

Roth won the Nobel Prize along with Lloyd S. Shapley, professor emeritus of economics and mathematics at UCLA, for solving a key economic problem—how to match players in a market in the best possible way.

Beginning in the 1960s, Shapley developed a body of theoretical work in which he used Cooperative Game Theory to study matching. He discovered that it is important to find a “stable match,” meaning a match in which there are no two agents who would prefer one another over their current counterparts. 

When Roth was a Pitt faculty member in the 1980s, he began using Shapley’s theoretical results to explain how matching happens in practice. He studied the medical job market and eventually began to implement his findings in existing programs like the National Resident Matching Program, which matches newly minted doctors with residency positions at hospitals. In another case, he worked with Pitt economics alumnus M. Utku Ünver (A&S ’97G, ’00G) on a study that led to improvements in the design of a program to match kidney donors with compatible kidney recipients. He also has assisted with developing a system for matching students with schools.

When announcing the prize in 2012, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said of Roth and Shapley: “Even though these two researchers worked independently of one another, the combination of Shapley’s basic theory and Roth’s empirical investigations, experiments, and practical design has generated a flourishing field of research and improved the performance of many markets. This year’s prize is awarded for an outstanding example of economic engineering.”

While at Pitt, Roth was the recipient of the 1992 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award. He also served as a Fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Science and a professor of business administration in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. His work was also influential in developing the field of experimental economics at the University.

“Central to Prof. Roth’s work on market design has been the use of theory and laboratory experiments. Under his leadership, the Department of Economics at Pitt became, and is still regarded as being, one of the leaders in experimental economics,” said Lise Vesterlund, Pitt’s current Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Economics. 

Roth is an editor or coeditor of several books, including The Handbook of Experimental Economics (Princeton University Press, 1995), and a coauthor of Two-Sided Matching: A Study in Game-Theoretic Modeling and Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 1990), which won the 1990 Frederick W. Lanchester Prize. The prize is awarded annually for “the best contribution to operations research and the management sciences published in English” by the international Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

In addition to the Nobel, Roth’s accolades include being named a Guggenheim Fellow (1983-84) and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory. He has received five teaching and mentoring awards, most recently the 2011 Excellence in Mentoring Doctoral Students Award from the Harvard Business School. In 2013, he received an honorary doctoral degree from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Roth earned his bachelor’s degree in operations research from Columbia University in 1971 and his master’s and PhD degrees in operations research from Stanford University in 1973 and 1974, respectively.