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Faces of HPC: Karen Spärck

Karen Spärck Jones started he career in the 1950s as a school teacher but quickly moved into computer science. Throughout her career Spärck campaigned to improve the representation of women. She has received numerous accolades during her carer including the BCS Lovelace Medal in 2007.


Karen Spärck Jones moved from school teaching into Computer Science early in her career and developed an interest in language and information processing. Her research at the University of Cambridge included developing inverse document frequency weighting (IDF) that is used extensively in most of today's search engines.


Karen Ida Boalth Spärck Jones was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England in 1935. Karen studied History and Philosophy in Girton College at the University of Cambridge between 1953 to 1956 before becoming a school teaching.

Shortly after graduating Spärck moved from teaching to working at the Cambridge Language Research Unit as a computer scientist. She worked at the Cambridge Language Research Unit until 1974 and then at Cambridge's Computer Laboratory until her retirement in 2002, working on topics such as automatic summarising and language and information system evaluation. Her career included work in natural language processing and language retrieval, specifically document retrieval through speech applications and database query language system evaluation. Karen also campaigned tirelessly throughout her career to improve the representation of women in the community. 

In 1972 she published a paper on the concept of inverse document frequency (IDF) weighting, her biggest contribution in information processing. This process is still used extensively in modern search engines across the world. Throughout her career Spärck authored 9 books and became a Professor of Computers and Information in 1999. She was awarded numerous acolades during her career, including the ACL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and the BCS Lovelace Medal and the ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award in 2007. She died the 4th April 2007.

Throughout her career she campaigned to improve the proportion of women working in computing



Last updated: 20 Sep 2016 at 16:18