Karen Spärck Jones

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Karen Spärck Jones
Karen Spärck.jpg
Karen Spärck Jones in 2002
Born (1935-08-26)26 August 1935
Huddersfield, Yorkshire
Died 4 April 2007(2007-04-04) (aged 71)
Willingham, Cambridgeshire
Residence United Kingdom
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Known for work on information retrieval and natural language processing, in particular her probabilistic model of document and text retrieval
Spouse(s) Roger Needham
Awards ACL Lifetime Achievement Award, BCS Lovelace Medal, ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award, ACM SIGIR Salton Award, American Society for Information Science and Technology's Award of Merit
Scientific career
Fields Computer science
Institutions University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
Thesis Synonymy and Semantic Classification (1964[2])
Doctoral advisor Richard Braithwaite[1]
Website cl.cam.ac.uk/archive/ksj21

Karen Spärck Jones FBA (26 August 1935 – 4 April 2007) was a British computer scientist who was responsible for the concept of inverse document frequency, a technology that underlies most modern search engines.[3][4]

Personal life[edit]

Karen Ida Boalth Spärck Jones was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England. Her father was Owen Jones, a lecturer in chemistry, and her mother was Ida Spärck, a Norwegian who moved to Britain during World War II. They left Norway on one of the last boats out after the German invasion in 1940. Spärck Jones was educated at a grammar school in Huddersfield and then Girton College, Cambridge from 1953 to 1956, reading History, with an additional final year in Moral Sciences (philosophy). She briefly became a school teacher, before moving into Computer Science. During her career in Computer Science, she campaigned hard for more women to enter computing. She was married to fellow Cambridge computer scientist Roger Needham until his death in 2003. She died 4 April 2007 at Willingham in Cambridgeshire.[1]


She worked at the Cambridge Language Research Unit from the late 1950s,[5] then at Cambridge's Computer Laboratory from 1974, and retired in 2002, holding the post of Professor of Computers and Information, which she was awarded in 1999.[1] She continued to work in the Computer Laboratory until shortly before her death. Her main research interests, since the late 1950s, were natural language processing and information retrieval.[6][7] One of her most important contributions was the concept of inverse document frequency (IDF) weighting in information retrieval, which she introduced in a 1972 paper.[6][8] IDF is used in most search engines today, usually as part of the tf-idf weighting scheme.[9]

There is an annual BCS lecture named in her honour.[10]

In August 2017, the University of Huddersfield renamed one of its campus buildings in her honour. Formerly known as Canalside West, the Spärck Jones building houses the University's School of Computing and Engineering.[11]



Karen Spärck Jones Award[edit]

To commemorate her achievements, the Karen Spärck Jones Award was created in 2008 by the BCS and its Information Retrieval Specialist Group (BCS IRSG), which is sponsored by Microsoft Research.[16]

The recipients are:


  1. ^ a b c "Jones, Karen Ida Boalth Spärck (1935–2007), Computer Scientist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/98729.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Karen Spärck Jones (1986). Synonymy and Semantic Classification (thesis published as a book). Edinburgh Information Technology series. 1. Edinburgh University Press. 
  3. ^ a b c Tait, J. I. (2007). "Karen Spärck Jones". Computational Linguistics. 33 (3): 289–291. doi:10.1162/coli.2007.33.3.289. 
  4. ^ Robertson, S.; Tait, J. (2008). "Karen Spärck Jones". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 59 (5): 852. doi:10.1002/asi.20784. 
  5. ^ "Computer Laboratory obituary". 
  6. ^ a b Spärck Jones, K. (1972). "A Statistical Interpretation of Term Specificity and Its Application in Retrieval". Journal of Documentation. 28: 11–21. doi:10.1108/eb026526. 
  7. ^ Tait, John I., ed. (2005). "Charting a New Course: Natural Language Processing and Information Retrieval, Essays in Honour of Karen Spärck Jones". The Kluwer International Series on Information Retrieval. 16. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3467-9. ISBN 1-4020-3343-5. 
  8. ^ Spärck Jones, K. (1973). "Index term weighting". Information Storage and Retrieval. 9 (11): 619–633. doi:10.1016/0020-0271(73)90043-0. 
  9. ^ Maybury, M. T. (2005). "Karen Spärck Jones and Summarization". Charting a New Course: Natural Language Processing and Information Retrieval. The Kluwer International Series on Information Retrieval. 16. pp. 99–10. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3467-9_7. ISBN 1-4020-3343-5. 
  10. ^ "Karen Spärck Jones lecture". BCS Academy of Computing. British Computer Society. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  11. ^ "How to find us – University of Huddersfield". hud.ac.uk. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  12. ^ a b c Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 12 April 2007
  13. ^ a b c "Karen Spärck Jones". The Computer Laboratory, Cambridge University. March 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  14. ^ "Gerard Salton Awards". Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval. Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  15. ^ "ACL Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients". ACL wiki. ACL. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "KSJ Award". irsg.bcs.org. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Makoto Nagao
ACL Lifetime Achievement Award
Succeeded by
Martin Kay