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The career of a researcher

Lise Loumé - 21/03/2014

Catuscia Palamidessi: "In choosing computing, I feel that I have never moved that far from mathematics"

The third "Semaine des Mathématiques" (Mathematics Week) has chosen to place "Mathematics at the crossroads of cultures". This is the opportunity for Inria to highlight its rich links with mathematics and other disciplines. We meet Catuscia Palamidessi, a researcher in computing of Italian origin, who is in charge of the COMETE team.

Catuscia Palamidessi has always been passionate about mathematics, "both for its discipline and for the beauty of numbers" , she explains. Despite her desire to gain her independence quickly, she chose to complete lengthy studies at the University of Pisa in Italy, where she dedicated herself to... computing! "I thought there were more prospects than in mathematics, but at the time I didn't know it was possible to spend your entire career in research" , she admits. Her thesis was on logic programming, a programming language which focuses on the processing of symbolic data. This is a subject which she considers to be very close to mathematics.
In 1988, after completing her thesis, she taught computer science in Italy and then at Pennsylvania State University in the United States. In 1998, she won the prize for the best professor in the Computing Department. "I was thrilled to receive that prize, as I was afraid American students would not like my teaching methods" , she remembers.
Four years later, she settled in France with her husband, Dale Miller, also a researcher in computing at Inria. "Here, we can concentrate on our research work and make long-term plans" , she explains. "This type of structure does not exist in either Italy or the United States!"  

Data protection

Since 2002, she has led the COMETE team, which specialises in information flows and data protection in so-called probabilistic systems. These systems generally use "randomisation", i.e. random repetition, to blur the link between public and private information. "We aim for optimal randomisation, which means achieving a high degree of data protection whilst minimising the impact of its use on the fluidity of data exchanges" , she explains.
With more than 100 publications to her name, Catuscia Palamidessi finds it hard to say which one she considers the most important. "Perhaps one of my recent articles, describing how it is possible to protect private data using Laplace's law of probability" .
She is currently involved in an international project called PRINCESS (Protecting Privacy while Preserving Data Access), in collaboration with a research team in Australia and Pennsylvania State University. "The objective of this project is to analyse the flow of information, always from the point of view of probabilities, but based on complex theories such as information theory and decision theory" , she explains. "The Australian and American research teams are some of the best in the world in this field, so their involvement in this project is vital to our success."

Keywords: International Catuscia Palamidessi Comete team Portrait Researcher Italy United States