Karen Spärk Jones: Search Engines


Image credit: University of Cambridge CC BY 2.5

Try and imagine a world without search engines! Where you cannot simply look something up, the name of a new film, where to buy an item, what the weather might be next week.

Karen Spärk Jones’ research is used by almost every search engine that we use and without it, search engines would not be as fast and effective as they are.

Working in the area of statistics and linguistics (maths and words) Karen came up with an idea of using weights based on how important a word or phrase is when retrieving information. This sounds like a simple idea (all the best ideas are simple) but to do it in practice requires a lot of mathematical modelling of the frequency of terms.

Read more about Karen’s research on the  cs4fn website.


Computing, English and Maths: Find out about the ranking algorithms used by search engines. Why are the details kept secret? Think about how you could record the frequency of terms and phrases in a text.  What terms would be the most unique to any text? What types of text might be easier to distinguish from another? Find out about search engine optimisation.

This work was supported by the Institute of Coding, which is supported by the Office for Students (OfS).