By Zulqarnain Haider
The 2018 Omega Rho distinguished lecture was all about an individual’s absolute love for and faith in the power of operations research (O.R.) to deliver public good. This year’s speaker, Dr. Anna Nagurney, began her talk by describing her journey of falling in love with O.R., her decision to pursue a PhD, her trail-blazing PhD supervisor, and her academic pedigree that stretched all the way to Galileo. Her talk was about her life-long work in network optimization. The audience listened intently as Dr. Nagurney went over the multifarious applications of networks and graph theory in healthcare, food security, disaster relief, and cybersecurity.
Dr. Nagurney spoke slowly and with a soft tone. Even after innumerable peer reviewed journals and dozens of books about networks, the joy in her voice was palpable. She proudly talked about the history of the science of the networks, filled with quips and tidbits about the giants of the field. She mentioned luminaries including Euler, Cournot, and Kirchhoff and the more recent pioneers of the science of networks from Dantzig to Ahuja.
The underlying theme of the talk, as suggested by the title, was to underscore the idea of using optimization and networks for public good. She described her work in supply chain management with focus on unconventional supply chains of blood, medical nuclear materials, food, and disaster relief. She emphasized the perishability of the products and the necessity of efficiently managing their supply chains to avoid the expensive wastage. She also described the game theoretic approaches to better model the congestion and competition aspects of these supply chains.
She concluded the talk by highlighting the increasingly potent threat of cyber attacks and the vulnerabilities of the current Internet infrastructure to the increasingly sophisticated attacks. She finalized her speech with a call to reimagine the structure of the Internet to a more service-friendly “choiceNet” to make it more robust to cyber-attacks.