Gérard Cornuéjols MS ’76 PhD ’78 Wins a Second Lanchester Prize and is Elected to the National Academy of Engineering
In 1977, while an ORIE PhD student, Gérard Cornuéjols coauthored a paper with George Nemhauser and Marshall Fisher that won the Lanchester Prize for the best contribution to operations research and the management sciences published in English in the previous three years.
Now, with coauthors Michele Conforti and Giacomo Zambelli, Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business Professor Cornuéjols has again won the Lanchester Prize, which was presented by the Lanchester Prize Committee Chair, ORIE Director David Shmoys, at the annual meeting of INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. Since the Lanchester Prize was established in 1954, only two others – one of them Cornuéjols’ earlier co-winner Nemhauser (ORIE Director at the time) –have been awarded it more than once.
Soon after receiving his second Lanchester Prize, Cornuéjols was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his contributions to the theory, practice, and application of integer programming. These contributions range from the 1977 paper -- which showed how a company could maximize available funds by maintaining accounts in several strategically located banks and paying bills from them in such a way as to maximize check clearing times -- and to the 400-page textbook, published in 2014 and the basis for the Lanchester Prize.
In 1972, with Robert Garfinkel, Nemhauser published a 400-page textbook called Integer Programming, as the result of which “I got hooked and asked Nemhauser to be my thesis advisor,” said Cornuéjols. “Some of the topics that were important 38 years ago are important today,” said Cornuéjols, “but the field has matured of course. One of the hardest tasks was to decide what to leave out: it is so tempting to add a neat result here and another one there until the book becomes unreadable,” he said.
Integer programming deals with what economists call the allocation of indivisible goods. Methods for determining the optimal allocation of scarce resources, such as linear programming, may yield fractional solutions although only whole number values make sense in the practical context. For example, it is not meaningful to assign a fractional driver to a particular train, to sequence fractions of tasks in a schedule, to visit a fraction of a city in a so-called travelling salesman tour, or to build a fraction of a manufacturing plant at a specific location. While integer programming problems pose severe computational challenges, advances in the field have enabled state-of-the-art software (such as Gurobi, led by ORIE alumnus Robert Bixby PhD ’72) to handle large-scale inputs in a broad range of application domains.
The citation for the 2015 Lanchester Prize describes the textbook as presenting “the fundamentals of the area, highlighting the mathematical elegance of the foundations of the field, as well as bringing the reader to the edge of the research frontier. The writing blends clarity of exposition with a dedication to infusing the reader with the needed geometric intuition. Several well-known results especially benefit from this fresh presentation.”
The Lanchester Prize has been awarded only six times in the past nine years, with Cornell represented among the recipients in all but one of those times. ORIE professors David Shmoys and David Williamson won the 2013 prize, Cornell economics professor David Easley and Operations Research field member Jon Kleinberg won the 2011 prize, Stanford management science professor Lawrence Wein ’79 shared the 2008 prize, and in 2006 Gurobi co-founder Bixby shared the prize with his coauthors of the book The Traveling Salesman Problem: A Computational Study.