Sorry, wrong homework

March 13, 2013 | By | Reply More

This is a pretty cool story that has stuck with me.  It’s from the obituary of George Dantzig (Published in the Washington Post in May, 2005):

George B. Dantzig, 90, a mathematician who devised a formula that revolutionized planning, scheduling, network design and other complex functions integral to modern-day business, industry and government, died May 13 at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. The cause of death, according to his daughter, was complications from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Dantzig was known as the father of linear programming and as the inventor of the “simplex method,” an algorithm for solving linear programming problems.

“He really created the field,” said Irvin Lustig, an operations research software consultant who was Dr. Dantzig’s student at Stanford University.

Dr. Dantzig’s seminal work allows the airline industry, for example, to schedule crews and make fleet assignments. It’s the tool that shipping companies use to determine how many planes they need and where their delivery trucks should be deployed. The oil industry long has used linear programming in refinery planning, as it determines how much of its raw product should become different grades of gasoline and how much should be used for petroleum-based byproducts. It’s used in manufacturing, revenue management, telecommunications, advertising, architecture, circuit design and countless other areas.

. . .

In 1939, he resumed his studies at the University of California at Berkeley, studying statistics under mathematician Jerzy Neyman. An incident during his first year at Berkeley became a math-world legend.

As Dr. Dantzig recalled years later, he arrived late for class one day and saw two problems on the blackboard that he assumed were homework assignments. He copied them down, took them home and solved them after a few days. “The problems seemed to be a little harder to do than usual,” he said.

On a Sunday morning six weeks later, an excited Neyman banged on his student’s front door, eager to tell him that the homework problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics.

“That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them,” Dr. Dantzig recalled.

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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