SIAM Conference Celebrates Professor Michael Todd's Milestone Birthday
The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), established in 1952 as an organization to further the application of mathematics (and later computational science) to industry and science, held a conference on optimization in May, in Boston. The conference program included two sessions in honor of ORIE Professor Michael J. Todd's 60th birthday, as well as a dinner celebrating the birthdays of Todd and Professor David Shanno of Rutgers University.
Todd joined the ORIE faculty at Cornell as an assistant professor in 1973, becoming the Leon C. Welch Professor of Engineering in 1988. He is a mathematics graduate of Cambridge University and received his Ph.D. in Administrative Sciences from Yale. He has published about 140 papers, book chapters and articles on various aspects of constrained optimization (and one entitled In Praise of Older Motorcycles). Thus far, he has supervised the thesis research of seventeen Ph.D. graduates, several of whom attended the conference.
Two of the conference sessions, organized by Todd's student Emre Alper Yildirim (right), Assistant Professor at Bilkent University, Turkey, were devoted to papers discussing recent advances in optimization, with papers at one session given by Todd's students and at the other by his coauthors. Yildirim commented that as a student he "always benefited from [Todd's] immense knowledge and intuition," but that collaborating with him can be quite challenging since "he is extremely quick in understanding the essence of any problem."
| Dave and Kathie Shanno (left) with Mike and Marina Todd at the SIAM birthday dinner
At the dinner, which was organized by Todd's current student Damla Ahipassoglu, Todd's colleague Adrian Lewis poked fun at Todd's motorcycle riding and his musical abilities. On a more serious note, Lewis noted that at professional meetings "Todd pays attention to everyone, no matter how junior or misguided, asking insightful but always complimentary questions...[with] never..a spiteful word...either in public or in private," and credited Todd with positively influencing the atmosphere of his scientific community by being a "supportive, enthusiastic, energetic, genial" senior role model.
In subsequent correspondence, several of Todd's former students have echoed Lewis' role model comment. Samuel Ayo Awoniyi (left), Professor of Industrial Engineering at FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in Tallahassee, Florida, said "Mike was always patient and considerate in explaining things to me, and I have tried to do the same with my students." Walter Morris, Professor of Mathematics at George Mason University in Virginia, said that "his enthusiasm for mathematics, his high standards for his research, and his work ethic are things I've tried to emulate."
Reha Tutuncu (right), Vice President, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said that "even my second career as a portfolio manager has its roots in Mike's advice and guidance...on applying optimization methods to financial problems." And Michael Wagner (left), Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati's Children's Hospital Research Foundation, said "I try (hard) to pass on Mike's generosity and patience with his students to my own."
Todd's student Avi Vardi, currently a consultant with business intelligence company bisolutions.us, remarked that during the development of his thesis he would consult Todd on some difficulty and quickly obtain some clues on how to resolve it. "I immediately copied what he wrote and then spent considerable time, often more than a week, to figure out what he said," Vardi commented. Moreover when he consulted with Todd during his professional career Todd "kept coming up with brilliant insights and solutions."
Much of Todd's work has been devoted to so-called interior point optimization methods which -- unlike the well-established simplex method for linear optimization that proceeds from vertex to vertex of the geometrical boundary of the constrained region of possible (feasible) solution values -- generate successive candidates approaching the optimal solution from within the constrained region. Interior point methods are particularly appropriate to problems in which the region of feasible solutions is defined by nonlinear relationships, since for such problems there may be no optimal solution at any vertex.
Todd is a Fellow of INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences, and has been a Guggenheim and Sloan Research Fellow. He has won SIAM's George B. Dantzig Prize and the John von Neumann Theory Prize of INFORMS, served as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Mathematical Programming and recently stepped down as Chair of the Society for the Foundations of Computational Mathematics, of which he was a founding member. He remains Editor of its journal, Foundations of Computational Mathematics.