Michael J. Kurtz, Harvard-Smithsonian

Title: How a Student's Daydream About Stellar Spectra Became one of the World's Most Important Digital Libraries, the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System (Video)

Abstract: In 1979 I was daydreaming out the window of the Kresge Library when I had a vision of stellar spectra as occupying points in an n-dimensional vector space, where n was the number of resolution elements in the spectra.  This led to my thesis work, where I used, for the first time, n-dimensional vector distances and Eigenvector techniques to classify astronomical spectra.

My thesis became well known enough that I was still talking about it five years later, at a meeting in Bavaria, where someone in the audience came to me and said that the exact same mathematical techniques could be used to classify documents.  I view the ADS as being born in that moment.

Five years later the first ADS prototype was shown, and five years after that the ADS had become the dominant means for astronomers to read their technical literature, having more use than all the world’s astronomy print libraries, combined.  Now twenty years later the ADS is at the core of astronomy research, and is frequently used by physicists as well.

The ADS continues to be at the state of the art in scholarly information access and retrieval.  In this talk I will describe the past. present, and future of the ADS as a product of the ideas which created it and drive it. This includes topics both mundane (getting people’s names right) and exotic (the proper model for literature is a Hausdorff space, not a Hilbert space).  I’ll spend some time at the end with advanced search/recommender/analysis features of the ADS.

The talk will be occasionally be interrupted by messages from our sponsor: Sensible Bibliometrics.

The ADS is at : ads.harvard.edu