Optimization, Operations Research and the Edelman Prize

This year, I have the distinct honor of chairing the committee to award the Franz Edelman Award, given out by INFORMS for the best work that “attests to the contributions of operations research and analytics in both the profit and non-profit sectors”.  This competition has been incredibly inspiring to me throughout my career.  Just this year, as a judge, I got to see extremely high-quality presentations on eradicating polio throughout the world, bringing high-speed internet to all of Australia, facilitating long kidney exchange chains, and more.  I have seen dozens of presentations over my years as an Edelman enthusiast and judge, and I always leave with the same feeling: “Wow, I wish I had done that!”.

There is nothing that makes me more enthusiastic about the current state and future prospects of operations research than the Edelman awards.  And, as a judge, I get to see all the work that doesn’t even make the finals, much of which is similarly inspiring.  Operations Research is having a tremendous effect on the world, and the Edelman Prize papers are just the (very high quality) tip of the iceberg.

I was very pleased when the editors of Optima, the newsletter of the Optimization Society of INFORMS, the newsletter of the Mathematical Optimization Society, asked me to write about the relationship between optimization and the Edelman Prize.  The result is in their current issue.  In this issue, the editors published work by the 2013 winner of the Edelman, work on optimizing dike heights in the Netherlands, a fantastic piece of work that has saved the Netherlands billions in unneeded spending.  My article appears on page 6.  Here is one extract on why the Edelman is good for the world of optimization:

There are many reasons why those in optimization should be interested in, and should support, the Edelman award.

The first, and perhaps most important, is the visibility the Edelman competition gets within an organization. A traditional part of an Edelman presentation is a video of a company CEO extolling the benefits of the project. While, in many cases, the CEO has already known about the project, this provides a great opportunity to solidify his or her understanding of the role of optimization in the success of the company. With improved understanding comes willingness to further support optimization within the firm, which leads to more investment in the field, which is good for optimization. As a side note, I find it a personal treat to watch CEOs speak of optimization with enthusiasm: they may not truly understand what they mean when they say “lagrangian based constrained optimization” but they can make a very convincing case for it.

Despite the humorous tone, I do believe this is very important:  our field needs to be known at the highest levels, and the Edelman assures this happens, at least for the finalists.  And, as I make clear in the article: it is not just optimization.  This is all of operations research.

There are dozens of great OR projects done each year that end up submitted to the Edelman Award.  I suspect there are hundreds or thousands of equally great projects done each year that don’t choose to submit (it is only four pages!).  I am hoping for a bumper crop of them to show up in the submissions this year.  Due date is not until October, but putting together the first nomination would make a great summer project.

An Operations Research Nobel?

This entry is a copy of an blog posting I made for the INFORMS Phoenix conference blog.

The Nobel Prize committee has never quite taken to operations research.  If George Dantzig  was not awarded the prize, it is hard to see what our field has to do in order to be recognized.  But many recipients are well-known in our field and their research has drawn from, and inspired, research in operations research.  This year’s Economics award recognizes two  economists, Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley, who are very well known in our field, and have strong ties to INFORMS and its predecessor organizations.

Shapley was recognized by ORSA with the von Neumann Theory Prize in 1981.  Here is part of the citation:

Lloyd Shapley has dominated game theory for the thirty-seven years since von Neumann and Morgenstern published their path-breaking book, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. Shapley’s key ideas include his inventions of convex games; stochastic games; the “Shapley” value for cooperative games; and his development of the theory of the core, including his independent discovery of the famous Bondareva-Shapley Theorem about the non-emptiness of the core. He has made important contributions to network flow theory and to non-atomic game theory. His work on the core influenced the development of fixed-point and complementarity theory, and his work on stochastic games influenced the development of dynamic programming. His individual work and his joint research with Martin Shubik has helped build bridges between game theory, economics, political science, and practice. Roth received the Lanchester Prize

Roth received the Lanchester Prize in 1990 for the book with coauthor Mari Ida Sotomayor, Two-Sided Matching: a Study in Game Theoretic Modeling and Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 1990).  The citation read, in part:

n their book, Alvin Roth and Mari lda Oliveira Sotomayor use policy evaluation and empirical observation as a guide to deep mathematical analysis. They demonstrate in precise, insightful detail how game theory in general, and matching markets in particular evolved into fields that are grounded in strong theory and, at the same time, are quite relevant to real issues of practice. The theory of matching markets, to which the authors have been major contributors, originated with the famous 1962 Gale-Shapley paper, ‘College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage.

The Prize Page notes that Roth’s comments included the following:

When I received my PhD in Operations Research almost 20 years ago, game theory was as much at home in O.R. as in any other discipline. Today I sit in an economics department, and the situation is very different. Game theory has grown enormously and become the backbone of modern economic theory, but in operations research it seems to be studied and used relatively little. This is an enormous missed opportunity, and one of our hopes for the book is that it should help explain the nature of this opportunity.

I don’t know if Roth’s comments hold today.  Certainly, game theory provides a strong underpinning to what we do, particularly in areas like supply chain and marketing with multiple actors with different objectives. And that area has grown tremendously since Roth’s comments in 1990.  There are more than 200 papers at this conference that have some aspect of game theory in their abstract.  So our field is certainly active in this area.  But there is a tremendous amount of work in the economics literature also.

Congratulations to Roth and Shapley.  It might not be a pure “Operations Research Nobel” but it is pretty darn close.

Image credits: From the official Nobel Prize page.

George Nemhauser and Laurence Wolsey win von Neumann Theory Prize

twitter report has George Nemhauser of Georgia Tech winning the von Neumann Theory Prize from INFORMS.


Turns out that you can confirm this at the online conference program:  George Nemhauser and Laurence Wolsey are this year’s von Neumann Prize winners.  This is great news!  George and Laurence are two of my favorite people in the field.  I know George better than Laurence, since he and I are partners in our small sports scheduling company, so I work with him pretty closely.  And I did take a few courses from him when I was a doctoral student at George Tech a century or two ago.   I have interacted often with Wolsey at conferences, and he was kind enough to host me in Louvain years ago. The book George and Laurence wrote is a classic of integer programming and I am actually stunned they did not receive this award years ago.

But this is my blog, not George or Laurence’s, so let me say two things about me in this context:

  1. George and I have a paper that we wrote back in the late 1990s on scheduling Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.  It is dated now, of course (you can solve this problem in seconds rather than hours), but it remains one of my favorite papers, and I think it was pretty influential in kindling interest in sports scheduling optimization.  I wrote it over a 3 day period while snowed in during a year I spent at MIT.  The published version is almost identical to what I wrote in those three days.  I see it is one of George’s top 15 cited papers, but that probably is not the reason he got the von Neumann.  Note that George’s most cited work is his textbook with Wolsey:  Google Scholar is a bit confused about this.
  2. Last year’s winner of the von Neumann was Gerard Cornuejols, who is my colleague at the Tepper School.  Looks like “closeness to Michael Trick” is a key criterion for the von Neumann, though actually being Michael Trick is too close to get the bonus points.

Assuming the rumor is true, Congratulations George and Laurence!


“For S/He’s a Jolly Good [INFORMS] Fellow!”

Further to INFORMS recognitions, now is the time to nominate people for INFORMS Fellow.  I was on the board when plans for the Fellow’s program got underway and I, like many, was a little leery.  Way back in the early 1950s, the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) started a Fellow’s program that led almost immediately to the creation of  The Institute for Management Science (TIMS) by those who were not selected as Fellows (this is an oversimplification, and I wasn’t there:  how old do you think I am!).  I know of many organizations ripped apart by arguments over who gets to be a Fellow and who isn’t.  It is really awful when a Fellows program gets to be a schoolyard argument over who gets to sit in the treehouse.

On the other hand, practically the first question asked for nomination to the National Academy of Science (or Engineering) is “Is the candidate a Fellow of their professional society”.  Without this designation, operations research people are at a disadvantage.  So the Fellows program came in to being (Jim Bean, my predecessor as President of INFORMS, played a big role in designing and implementing the program).

I was fortunate to be President of INFORMS for the inaugural class in 2002, so I got to shake hands with Dantzig, Arrow, and a host of others.  It was a great thrill (forever memorialized in an OR/MS Today article where it looks like all the famous people are shaking hands with a cardboard cutout of me!).   And, while I know there are those who are not Fellows who should be (fewer and fewer every year), the society has seemed to survive this program.

The process for Fellows is now in the hands of the existing Fellows.  They (well, “We” since I became a Fellow a few years back) have put out a call for nominations:

The Fellow Award recognizes members who have made significant contributions to the advancement of operations research and the management sciences. The contributions of a nominee will be evaluated in each of the following five categories and contributions must be outstanding in at least one category: research, practice, management, education, and service. INFORMS will name its tenth set of Fellows at the INFORMS Annual Meeting 2012 in Phoenix, AZ, in October 2012. The nomination deadline is June 30, 2012.

Remember – a maximum of four reference letters, including the letter from the nominator, may be submitted.

[The complete nomination guidelines are at]:http://www.informs.org/Connect-with-People/Fellows/INFORMS-Fellows-Nomination-Procedure

The complete list of current Fellows is at http://www.informs.org/Connect-with-People/Fellows/Fellows-Alphabetical-List

Kimball Medal Call for Nominations

I’m chairing this year’s Kimball Medal Committee.  Here is the call for nominations:

The George E. Kimball Medal is awarded by INFORMS for recognition of distinguished service to the Institute and to the profession of operations research and the management sciences.   The committee for this year’s award is Michael Trick (Chair), Robin Keller, and Steve Robinson.  If you would like to nominate someone (including yourself) please send an email with the name of your nominee along with a brief justification to Michael Trick (trick@cmu.edu) by July 31 for review in August.  The website for the award is http://www.informs.org/Recognize-Excellence/INFORMS-Prizes-Awards/George-E.-Kimball-Medal and past awardees are listed at that site.
The past winners are generally an impressive group with recent winners including Brenda Dietrich, Steve Robinson, Larry Wein, Jim Bean, Mark Daskin, and yours truly (which is how I got to chair this year’s committee).

Are you an Undergraduate who has done Great OR?

If you are an undergraduate student who has done great operations research, or know someone like that, note that INFORMS has a prize for great undergraduate work.   The work can be in OR theory or practice, but the judging is based on a paper.  You can find out more information at the INFORMS website.  Better hurry, though:  the due date for submissions is July 1.

INFORMS Optimization Awards

The INFORMS Optimization Society just announced their 2010 awards.

I [Nick Sahinidis, President of the Society] am delighted to announce the winners of the 2010 INFORMS Optimization Society Prizes:
George L. Nemhauser, winner of the first Khachiyan Prize for his life-time achievements in the field of optimization
Zhi-Quan (Tom) Luo, winner of the 2010 Farkas Prize for his outstanding contributions to the field of optimization
Anthony Man-Cho So, winner of the 2010 Prize for Young Researchers for his paper “Moment inequalities for sums of random matrices and their applications to optimization,” Mathematical Programming, DOI: 10.1007/s10107-009-0330-5
Shiqian Ma, winner of the 2010 Student Paper Prize for his paper “Fast multiple splitting algorithms for convex optimization,” co-authored with Don Goldfarb.

A very impressive group!  I have worked with Nemhauser, and he and I are co-owners of a small sports scheduling firm.  I’d like to think sports scheduling helped a little bit in getting this award, but since our most cited paper together is only his 14th most cited paper (it is my 5th most cited, both stats according to Google scholar), I guess he is really getting it for his work on more fundamental issues in integer programming (and other areas!).

Congrats to all the winners.  You can find out more about their work, and even see them all together at the upcoming INFORMS meeting:

The detailed award citations for this year’s prizes can be found at http://optimization.society.informs.org/prizes.html.  The four prize winners will present their work at a special session at the INFORMS meeting in Austin, scheduled for November 7th from 13:30 to 15:00 and entitled “Optimization Society Prizes.”

Doing Good with Good OR, 2010 edition

INFORMS is again sponsoring a student project prize on the theme “Doing Good with Good OR”:

Doing Good with Good OR-Student Competition is held each year to identify and honor outstanding projects in the field of operations research and the management sciences conducted by a student or student group that have a significant societal impact.

The projects must have, or are likely to have, a significant societal impact, and operations research and management science methods and tools (broadly interpreted) must be central to the success of the projects described. “Societal impact” should be construed to mean an impact on individuals, communities and organizations that goes beyond that associated with a private-sector for-profit initiative. The projects might also strive to include innovation through theory, creative computational methods, and should address implementation challenges.

Last year, David Hutton of Stanford won the award for work on screening Hepatitis B.

The submission deadline for this year’s award is May 15, 2010.

David Johnson to Receive Knuth Prize

AT&T Labs researcher David Johnson will receive this year’s Knuth Prize from the ACM “for his contributions to theoretical and experimental analysis of algorithms”.  While Johnson is best known for his NP-Completeness book with Michael Garey, he has had an extraordinarily influential career in both the theory of approximation algorithms and in research on experimental evaluation of algorithms.  From the announcement:

The ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT) will present its 2009 Knuth Prize to David S. Johnson of AT&T Labs for his contributions to theoretical and experimental analysis of algorithms.  Johnson’s innovations helped lay the foundation for algorithms used to address optimization problems, which involve the process of finding the best solution from all feasible solutions.  In addition, Johnson made many contributions to the early development of NP-completeness theory, which helps identify those problems that are hard to solve efficiently. The Knuth Prize, named in honor of Donald Knuth of Stanford University who has been called the “father” of the analysis of algorithms, will be presented at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC) June 6-8, 2010, in Cambridge, MA, where Johnson will present the Knuth Prize Lecture.

I got to know David almost 20 years ago when I agreed to coordinate one of his DIMACS Implementation Challenges.  This cooperation resulted in a book and, a decade later, a special issue of Discrete Applied Mathematics (with Anuj Mehortra). These Challenges are one of the ways David has explored issues in the evaluation of algorithms.  I had the chance recently to give a presentation on the effect of those Challenges.  David has had an enormous influence on me as I think about how to provide a firmer underpinning to the experimental analysis of algorithms and the way individuals and a field report on results.  This Prize makes me wish I had more time to spend on completing a planned system for reporting and confirming computational results.

I guess I am only surprised that David hadn’t already won this prize!  Very well deserved.