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Al Roth awarded 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics



16 October 2012

Nobel Prize winner Professor Alvin Roth
"Economics is about real life", says Nobel Prize winner Professor Alvin Roth. Photo credit: Carmen Wang

The 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize recipient Professor Al Roth visited the School of Economics in July, delivering a Sydney Ideas lecture"Who Gets What: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design" to a large and enthusiastic audience (Listen to podcast here) During his visit, Al Roth met with staff and students and in particular took time out to talk with the 2012 Economics Honours cohort.

Well known as a pioneer in redesigning markets such as kidney exchanges and public school choice, Roth has also contributed substantially to recent changes in the PhD Job Market, and is making the transition to Harvard in 2013. Roth is a George Gund Professor of Economics and Business Administration in the Department of Economics at Harvard University (though is moving to Stanford University at the start of 2013), and works in game theory, experimental economics, and market design.

Initially trained in operations research, with early papers in applied mathematics ("I was interested in making things work better, and using mathematics to help to that"- interview nobelprize.org), Roth later turned his attention to Economics.

At a Stanford Press Conference on Monday, Roth explained "I've always thought of economics as being not just part of the social sciences, but part of the humanities, because it gives us a window into people's lives at some of the biggest crossing points. When they get into schools and universities, when they get jobs, when they choose careers, when they get married - these are all matching markets."

When speaking to Allegra Grevelius of nobelprize.org, Roth said; "... economics is about real life, so I'm very interested in that."

School of Economics Professor Robert Slonim, a former post-doctoral student of Roth's, said:

"Al could have also won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in Experimental Economics. He has been an inspiration for many young economists, including many in Australia.

Al's Nobel Prize was for his work in Matching with profound applications for professional labour markets, school choice and most recently kidney exchanges. His matching work was inspired by the earlier work of Gale and Shapley (with whom he shares the Nobel award). Al noticed that the US national residency matching program was a perfect example of use of Shapley's ideas to effectively match people with jobs. I could go on to talk about his work that won him the Nobel Prize, but that would take a page or so.

He got the call at 3:30 AM and missed the call, but luckily the Nobel committee called him back. They had 5 or 6 people speak to him on the phone to convince him that he actually won the prize, though he did not think it was a prank. He did not expect to win the prize, but also did not think it was unimaginable ...

He was very, very happy to get the news."

To sweeten what many in the Economics community see as a well-deserved and most esteemed accolade, Al Roth is renowned in almost equal measure for being a truly nice human being; an attribute our staff and students at the School of Economics can attest to.

When asked how he felt winning the Nobel prize, Roth in typical humble style responded he felt "good, the same as anyone who wins the Nobel Prize. But at least in my case, this represents a lot of people's work. It's good for the field of market design."

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