Date of Award

Summer 2022

Project Type


Program or Major

Computer Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Laura Dietz

Second Advisor

Marek Petrik

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Varki


In the modern world, search engines are an integral part of human lives. The field of Information Retrieval (IR) is concerned with finding material (usually documents) of an unstructured nature (usually text) that satisfies an information need (query) from within large collections (usually stored on computers). The search engine then displays a ranked list of results relevant to our query. Traditional document retrieval algorithms match a query to a document using the overlap of words in both. However, the last decade has seen the focus shifting to leveraging the rich semantic information available in the form of entities. Entities are uniquely identifiable objects or things such as places, events, diseases, etc. that exist in the real or fictional world. Entity-oriented search systems leverage the semantic information associated with entities (e.g., names, types, etc.) to better match documents to queries. Web search engines would provide better search results if they understand the meaning of a query.

This dissertation advances the state-of-the-art in IR by developing novel algorithmsthat understand text (query, document, question, sentence, etc.) at the semantic level. To this end, this dissertation aims to understand the fine-grained meaning of entities from the context in which the entities have been mentioned, for example, “oysters” in the context of food versus ecosystems. Further, we aim to automatically learn (vector) representations of entities that incorporate this fine-grained knowledge and knowledge about the query. This work refines the automatic understanding of text passages using deep learning, a modern artificial intelligence paradigm.

This dissertation utilized the semantic information extracted from entities to retrieve materials (text and entities) relevant to a query. The interplay between text and entities in the text is studied by addressing three related prediction problems: (1) Identify entities that are relevant for the query, (2) Understand an entity’s meaning in the context of the query, and (3) Identify text passages that elaborate the connection between the query and an entity.

The research presented in this dissertation may be integrated into a larger system de-signed for answering complex topical queries such as dark chocolate health benefits which require the search engine to automatically understand the connections between the query and the relevant material, thus transforming the search engine into an answering engine.