Paolo Ferragina

Paolo Ferragina

Full Professor

Department of Computer Science
University of Pisa
Largo Bruno Pontecorvo 3, I-56127 Pisa, Italy.

email: paolo.ferragina(AT)
phone: +39 050 22127.64
skype: paolo.ferragina
twitter: FerraginaTeach

  • I'm leading the Advanced Algorithms and Application Lab (Acube), located at the Department of Computer Science, University of Pisa. We design and implement algorithms for compressing, indexing, searching and mining Big Data. We had/have collaborations on these themes with Senseable City Lab at MIT (Boston, USA), Pinello Lab at Harvard and MassGeneral Hospital (Boston, USA), Google (Zurich), Bloomberg (London), ST Microelectronics, Tiscali (Istella's search engine), Yahoo! Research (Barcelona), ENEL Foundation, ENEL Ricerche (Pisa), CERVED Group, Bassilichi, Spazio Dati.
  • I'm currently serving my University under the following duties:
  • In 2019, I got the honors of "Cherub" (Cherubino), from the University of Pisa.
  • In 2021, I was awared the ACM Senior membership from the Association of Computing Machinery (USA).
  • About my research achievements, my h-index is 33 on Scopus (and 5300+ citations) and 40 on Google Scholar (with 9500+ citations) [updated November 2021], and concerns with the following five main lines:
    • Research on Compressed Data Structures: Yahoo! Research sponsored my promotion to full professor from 2007 to 2011, awarding my research on compressed data structures. Among these results, I mention the FM-index which surpassed the 1700 citations on Google Scholar (at 25/1/21) and it has been mentioned by the National Security Agency (NSA) as part of one of its screening tools (see page 31), and it is the core indexing tool for BowTie!
    • Research on Learned Data Structures: This is a very recent project which is been supported by MIUR PRIN 2017 of which I'm the national coordinator. Our starting point is the ever growing need to efficiently store, retrieve and analyze massive datasets, under different requirements posed by users, servers and applications. To successfully meet these challenges, we have proposed the so called Multicriteria Data Structures and Algorithms, whose first example is the PGM index which is a provably efficienty learned data structure which combines compression, machine-learning and optimization algorithms to address efficiently the challenges above.
    • Research on Data Compression: In the period June 2016 - December 2020 Google was supporting our research on Information Theory and Data Compression, which last since 15 years. The project was called "An algorithmic analysis of Brotli to personalized data compression", which got a Google Faculty Award (2016). Our contribution to the design of Brotli, which is one of the compressors used in many browsers and applications worldwide (e.g. Chrome), is described in the paper I co-authored with Jyirki Alakuijala and his Googlers group and published in ACM TOIS 4:2018.
    • Research on Search Engines: I've got two Google research awards, in 2010 and 2012, on designing and applying a novel Semantic Annotation technology, known as TAGME (with its open source code), to several IR problems: Classification (ECIR 12), Clustering (WSDM 12), Social Network Analysis (ICWSM 15) and Query Disambiguation (WWW '16, ERD Challenge @ SIGIR '14). This algorithmic technology was considered for many years as the state-of-the-art in many entity-annotation tasks (WWW 13, WWW 15); it has been also awarded the Working Capital Award by Telecom Italia (2010) and won the Short Track of the ERD Challenge at SIGIR 2014. For further information on the suite of entity-linking tools we developed in those years, please look at the Web API publicly available at the SoBigData Platform.
    • Research on Sports Analytics: We are developing algorithms and AI techniques for the evaluation of performance of soccer players or the planning of soccer matches based on Big Data provided to us by Wyscout. Our first result is PlayeRank, a data-driven framework that offers a principled multi-dimensional and role-aware evaluation of the performance of soccer players. PlayeRank has been designed and evaluated on a massive dataset of millions of events pertaining to four seasons of the five prominent European leagues, showing that it is the state-of-the art. Starting from these scientific achievements I co-founded in 2018 the start-up PlayeRank, which currently is a spin-off of the University of Pisa.
  • I'm proud to have served my University as the President of the PhD in Computer Science which is a joint initiative of the Universities of Pisa, Florence and Siena (2018-2020); as vice-rector on "Applied Research and Innovation" (2010-2016); as the President of the IT Center (which is a competence center about Cloud and HPC for Dell and Intel, Xeonphi Centre for Intel, 2009-2016) and as vice-chairman of the Department of Computer Science (2006-2010).
Main Current Projects and Committees
  • Member of the 2019 ERC Panel Committee for PE6 - Computer Science and Informatics.
  • The Acube Lab is partner of the HumanE-AI project (call H2020-ICT-2019-3), sponsored by EU and whose main goal will be to study, design and experiment AI systems that augment and empower all Humans by understanding us, our society and the world around us. The project consortium, with 35 partners from 17 countries, and 4 large industrial members, has defined details of all aspects necessary to implement a full scale European action to mobilize major scientific, industrial, political and public support for the vision. (See the one day event at the European Parliament, March 2020.)
  • The Acube Lab is partner of the SoBigData++ EU research infrastructure for Social Mining and Big Data Analytics, started in January 2020. SoBigData++ strives to deliver a distributed, Pan-European, multi-disciplinary research infrastructure for big social data analytics, coupled with the consolidation of a cross-disciplinary European research community, aimed at using social mining and big data to understand the complexity of our contemporary, globally-interconnected society. SoBigData++ is set to advance on such ambitious tasks thanks to SoBigData, the predecessor project that started this construction in 2015.
  • Our project on "Multicriteria Data Structures and Algorithms: from compressed to learned indexes, and beyond." got a (three years) MIUR PRIN Grant 2017 to collaborate with R. Giancarlo (UniPA), G. Manzini (UniPO) and M. Frasca (UniMI). Look at the project's site for more infos and achievements.
  • Our project on "Using Graph Compression for Shortest Path Computation in Urban On-Demand Mobility" got a MIT-UniPI Grant 2019 to collaborate with the Carlo Ratti's Senseable City Lab at MIT.
  • Our book "Il Pensiero Computazionale: dagli algoritmi al coding" has been published by Il Mulino, 2017 (in Italian). This book has been selected for the Pianeta Galileo initiative that involves Tuscan's high-schools. This book has been translated to English and now it is published by Springer as Computational Thinking: First Algorithms, then Code (2018).
  • Our project "Entity salience through sophisticated syntactic and semantic features" got a Bloomberg Research Grant 2017 (Round 4).
  • Our project "An algorithmic analysis of Brotli, towards Personalized Data Compression" got a Google Faculty Research Award 2016. I'm happy and proud to work with Jyrki Alakuijala's group.
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal on Graph Algorithms and Applications (JGAA), since 2011.
  • Member of the Steering Committee of the Lipari PhD School on on Computational Complex and Social Systems, Lipari (Italy), since 2014.
  • Member of the Steering Committee of the European Symposium on Algorithms (ESA), 2012-2014.
Bio Sketch

I am Professor of Algorithms at the University of Pisa. I'm currently the Vice-Rector on ICT of my University. I'm also a Member of the Scientific Committee of the "Fondazione Innovazione e Sviluppo Imprenditoriale" of the Camera Commercio di Pisa. Finally, I funded and lead the Acube Lab, where we design algorithms for Big Data, with collaborations with companies worldwide: Google, Bloomberg, Tiscali, Yahoo!, ST Microelectronics, ENEL, Bassilichi, CERVED, Spazio Dati, etc. etc..

My promotion to full professor was sponsored by Yahoo! Research, from 2007 to 2011.

In 2019, I got the honors of "Cherub" (Cherubino), from the University of Pisa.

In 2021, I was awared the ACM Senior membership, from Association of Computing Machinery.

From 2018 to 2020, I was the President of the PhD in Computer Science which is a joint initiative of the Universities of Pisa, Florence and Siena. This is a regional PhD, named Pegaso, with about 15 students per year (over a total period of three years) and fellowships covered by Italian-MIUR, Tuscan Region, IIT-CNR and ISTI-CNR.

From 2010 to 2016 I was Vice-Rector on "Applied Research and Innovation" at the University of Pisa, in the same period I was the President of the IT Center, which is a competence center about Cloud and HPC for Dell and Intel, Xeonphi Centre for Intel, and recently Transform Data Center immersion for Microsoft. In this period, among other achievements, we introduced the Phd Plus: a series of lectures on research valorization and entrepreneurship for Phd and Master students, and Faculties of the University of Pisa. The PhD Plus originated many start-ups that won several (inter-)national competitions and raised some millions worldwide. The PhD Plus got into the shortlisted projects of the QS Reimagine Education Award 2016 (Philadelphia, USA).<\p>

From 2006 to 2010 I was the vice-chairman of the Department of Computer Science of the University of Pisa.

Among the other institutional duties, I mention: member of the Patent Committee of the University of Pisa, member of the CdA of Consorzio QUINN; member of the Scientific Committee of the Fondazione Toscana Life Sciences. I teached at the Scuola Normale Superiore (2009-11) and I was one of the scientific coordinators of its research center Signum, specialized on Digital Humanities (2004-07).

I got my Laurea degree (summa cum laude, 1992) and my PhD (1996) in Computer Science from the University of Pisa, and my Post-doc from the Max-Planck Institut fur Informatik (Saarbrucken, 1997-98). From 1998 to 2000, I've been Assistant Professor at the University of Pisa; and from 2000 to 2007, I've been Associate Professor at the same University. I also spent various periods of research at IBM Research (Rome), AT&T Shannon Lab (NJ), Yahoo! Research (Barcelona), Google (NY), University of North Texas, Max Planck Institut fuer Informatik (DE), and Courant Institute at New York University (USA).

My research is mainly devoted to the design, analysis and experimentation of algorithms and data structures for storing, compressing, mining and retrieving information from Big Data. My research results received four US Patents (owned by Lucent, University of Pisa and Rutgers, Yahoo!, New York University) and some international awards: "Best Land Transportation Paper Award" from IEEE Vehicular Technology Society (1995); "EATCS Doctoral Dissertation Thesis Award" (1997); "Philip Morris Award on Science and Technology" (1997); "Research Capital award" from the University of Pisa (2002); Yahoo! faculty award (2007-2010); Working Capital Award (2010); Google research award (2010, 2012 and 2016); Bloomberg Data Science research grant (2017). Currently, I have three more patents pending in the USA, two owned by Yahoo! and one by CatalogDNA. Our software system SMAPH won the ERD Challange @SIGIR2014 in the Short Track (query disambiguation).

I've been invited speaker of many international conferences and workshops on Algorithmics; in particular, I was a keynote speaker of CPM '04, SPIRE '05, ESA/ALGO 2010, SISAP '11, and Industral Track of ECIR 2012, DFG Priority Program 1307 "Algorithm Engineering" (Germany) and the DIITET 2015 National Conference of CNR (Pisa), Satellite Workshop on Quantifying Success \@ NETSCI (Parigi, 2018), INNS Conference on Big Data and Deep Learning (Venezia, 2019), Italian Conference on Theoretical Computer Science (Ischia, ICTCS 2020).

I'm serving in the Editor Board of the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications (JGAA), and I was in the Steering Committee of the European Sympoium on Algorithms (ESA, 2012-2014) and I was one of the Area Editors of the Encyclopedia of Algorithms (Springer, Editor Ming-Yang Kao) for the topics "Data compression, String Algorithms and Data Structures", and of the Encyclopedia of Big Data Technologies (Springer, Editor Zomaya and Sakr, 2018). I served as (co)editor of special issues on the international journals: Theory of Computing Systems (June 2006), Theoretical Computer Science (November 2007), Information Retrieval (August 2008), Theoretical Computer Science (November 2009), Algorithmica (November 2014).

I have served as PC member of many International Conferences on Theoretical Computer Science, specifically in the field of Algorithmics. I've been co-chair of International Conference on FUN with Algorithms (2004), DIMACS Workshop on the Burrows-Wheeler Transform (2004), Symposium on String Processing and Information Retrieval (2006), Symposium on Combinatorial Pattern Matching (2008), European Symposium on Algorithms-- Algorithm Engineering Track (2012), ACM Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (2013), the Indo-Italian School on ``Algorithms and Combinatorics'' that took place within the 5th Annual International Conference on Algorithms and Discrete Applied Mathematics (IIT Kharagpur, India).

I (co-)authored more than 160 (refereed) publications in international refereed conferences and journals on Theoretical Computer Science and Algorithmics. Let me recall some of my publications in journals --- such as 5 JACM, 2 SICOMP, 4 ACM Trans on Algorithms, 2 ACM Trans. on Information Systems, 7 Algorithmica, 6 TCS, 2 ACM J. on Exp. Algorithmics, 2 Information and Computation, etc.. --- and conferences --- such as 3 ACM STOC, 5 IEEE FOCS, 7 ACM-SIAM SODA, 13 ESA, 6 WWW, etc.. I have also co-authored two Italian books: one on Cryptography (Bollati Boringhieri, 2001 and 2007; now UniPI Press, 2015), and one on Computational Thinking (Il Mulino, 2017), recently translated in English and published by Springer (2018). I also authored several chapters in books: just to mention a few, one chapter on "String search in external memory: Algorithms and data structures" in the Handbook of Computational Molecular Biology (CRC Press, Editor Srinivas Aluru, 2005), and one chapter on "Web Search" in the book On the power of algorithms (Springer, Editors Ausiello-Petreschi, 2013), and on ``Computational Biology'' in the ``Handbook of Data Structures and Applications'' (CRC Press, 2017).

Here you can download an updated curriculum vitae, whereas for an updated list of publications look at the CS Bibliographic Database, or via Google Scholar.