Al Roth shares Golden Goose Award

September 12th, 2013

dish_golden_rothALVIN ROTH, professor of economics, has received the Golden Goose Award for his application of economic theory to create the national kidney exchange and other matching programs.

The Golden Goose Award was created in 2012 to recognize federally funded basic scientific research that may not have initially seemed to have significant practical applications, but has since resulted in tremendous societal and economic benefit. Roth shares the award with the two mathematicians who laid the foundation for his work,  LLOYD SHAPLEY and the late DAVID GALE.

In 1962, supported in part by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Gale and Shapley developed the Gale-Shapley deferred choice algorithm, which could determine how a large group of men and women could be matched to maximize marriage stability. Each man and woman in the group would rate their attraction to potential mates, and the algorithm paired them in such a way as to ensure that there were no “marriages” among the group in which both partners favored any of the other potential mates to their own.

This seemingly frivolous, and theoretical, work would eventually have great impact.

Roth, with funding from the National Science Foundation, would later apply the Gale-Shapley algorithm to develop school choice systems for New York, Boston and other cities, to match families to their top choice of public school. It was also central in Roth’s work creating the National Resident Matching Program, which pairs new doctors with hospitals nationwide.

He also built on another algorithm developed in part by Gale and Shapley, and also funded by the National Science Foundation, to develop a system for improving matching of kidney donors and recipients. Today the kidney exchange system is responsible for matching thousands of kidney recipients with unrelated kidney donors who otherwise might not have been able to receive kidneys compatible with their immune systems.

Roth and Shapley received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2012 for this work. Roth and the other awardees will receive their awards at the second annual Golden Goose Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19.

—BJORN CAREY