Black and White Program

Nobel economics prize awarded to Alvin E. Roth for practical applications of math theories

October 23rd, 2012 by Black and White Program Staff

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The 2012 Nobel economics prize has been awarded to Alvin E. Roth for his practical applications of mathematical theories. His work involves essentially matching up various players in the markets with each other for a more level playing field end result. These players are agents (buyers/sellers), donors/recipients, and schools/students. It is reported that his work has transformed markets ranging from public school assignments to kidney donations to medical resident job placements. Mr. Roth is a Professor of Economics and Business Administration at Harvard Business School (HBS) and in the Economics Department at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). He shares the prize with Lloyd S. Shapley, A.B. ’44, of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Using Shapley’s theories as a basis, Roth expanded upon them and published information about the best ways to match “agents” in markets. Roth came to Harvard in 1998 from the University of Pittsburgh, where he had a history of working in experimental economics. Roth also was behind a market-design experiment that designed the National Resident Matching Program there to improve placements for couples seeking medical residencies in the same city.
Roth’s work in the medical field has been substantial. Regarding kidney donation matches, he helped establish New England Program for Kidney Exchange. That program pairs donors who are not a match for their intended recipient, for example, a family member or friend — with other patients who also have a mismatched donor. He is reportedly also working on a national registry. The large-scale barter system is intended to improve efficient matches for the 90,000 people nationwide on the waiting list for a donor kidney.

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