Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Qiang Ye


Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are state of the art sequential machine learning tools, but have difficulty learning sequences with long-range dependencies due to the exponential growth or decay of gradients backpropagated through the RNN. Some methods overcome this problem by modifying the standard RNN architecure to force the recurrent weight matrix W to remain orthogonal throughout training. The first half of this thesis presents a novel orthogonal RNN architecture that enforces orthogonality of W by parametrizing with a skew-symmetric matrix via the Cayley transform. We present rules for backpropagation through the Cayley transform, show how to deal with the Cayley transform's singularity, and compare its performance on benchmark tasks to other orthogonal RNN architectures. The second half explores two deep learning approaches to problems in RNA secondary structure inference and compares them to a standard structure inference tool, the nearest neighbor thermodynamic model (NNTM). The first uses RNNs to detect paired or unpaired nucleotides in the RNA structure, which are then converted into synthetic auxiliary data that direct NNTM structure predictions. The second method uses recurrent and convolutional networks to directly infer RNA base pairs. In many cases, these approaches improve over NNTM structure predictions by 20-30 percentage points.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

National Science Foundation grants DMS-1620082 and DMS-1821144.