“The Quickest Route”, Illya Hicks, Computational and Applied Mathematics

My research is basically in finding the best of something.  That’s what you would call optimization, finding the best of something. In my case, you make decisions or you find the best of things that are discrete. So, say I’m UPS and I have a truck and I want to drop off packages at different customers and come back home, I want to find the best route to visit those customers and come back home.  You can’t go halfway.  There is no such thing as a fractional path going to these customers and coming back. Either you’re going to visit that customer or not. So it’s a discrete type of solution: either I’m going to that customer and dropping off a package or not. I’m taking either Highway 288 or Interstate 45 to get to that customer.  My work is looking at these types of decisions and finding the best solution given that these decisions have to be discrete. It’s called operations research.  It is used a lot in a lot of industries.  In the airline industry it is about what crews need to be on what planes, and when a plane is taking off. Anytime you have to make some type of decisions, you can use math to try to decide the optimal decision for you.