George Dantzig invented the simplex algorithm and contributed to linear programming. He introduced the world to the power of optimization, which has led to massive increases in productivity and drives the global economy (Read more in Prof. John Birge’s article here).
The movie “Good Will Hunting” has a scene that is inspired by the life of George Dantzig. In the movie, Matt Damon plays an MIT janitor who anonymously solves a difficult math problem that a math professor posted on a hallway blackboard.
In real life, George Dantzig once arrived to Jerzy Neyman’s class late while he was a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley. He wrote down what be believed were two homework problems posted on the blackboard, not knowing that the problems were unsolved math problems, because he had missed the announcement at the beginning of class. he then solved the problems, apologizing to Prof. Neyman that it took so longer to do the homework. They later became the foundation of his thesis. Read more here.
“If I had known that the problems were not homework but were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics, I probably would not have thought positively, would have become discouraged, and would never have solved them,”George Dantzig
I like this story. I also like Good Will Hunting and recommend it without hesitation.
I reflected on this story after returning from the 2023 INFORMS Analytics Conference.
I have always been impressed by how the operations research community has never shied away from hard problems in theory, computation or practice. The operations research community has been tackling hard problems since its early days during World War II, prior to George Dantzig’s solutions to the (then) unsolved problems in statistics.
We are still at it.
Our dedication to solving hard problems is evident at the Edelman Gala at the INFORMS Analytics Meeting, from which I recently returned (watch this year’s gala here). The Edelman Gala celebrates achievements in operations research and analytics, and it awards the Franz Edelman Award and the Daniel H. Wagner Prize. These prizes recognize the application and implementation of solutions that have made a big difference. The finalists of these awards embody the spirit of George Dantzig, and they reinforce that we solve problems and make a real difference in the world.