Mathematics is fundamentally changing the way the world operates, in every sector.

Lucas Waddell

“My goal is to help students realize that mathematics extends far beyond sets of contrived textbook exercises — it is fundamentally changing the way the world operates, in every sector,” says Professor Lucas Waddell. His field of expertise is operations research, which is used to optimize procedures in fields as diverse as national security, agriculture, health care, transportation and sports analytics.

“Operations research is often referred to as the science of decision-making,” explains Waddell. “Practitioners seek to provide mathematically informed, unbiased, quantitative analytics to support decision-making. Airlines use it when assigning crews to airplanes and determining ticket prices. Major League Baseball uses it to schedule games each season. The applications are practically endless.”

Because operations research is an interdisciplinary field, Waddell’s Topics in Operational Research course is as likely to include students from the colleges of engineering and management as it is to include math majors.

“I find this diversity exciting,” says Waddell. “Before coming to Bucknell, I was an operations research analyst for Sandia National Laboratories. Knowing how to explain complex solutions to people with diverse, often non-technical backgrounds is important. Having such a mix of students in one classroom allows them to experience these types of communication challenges for themselves.”

During his time at Sandia Labs, Waddell worked on the system design optimization of autonomous ground vehicles for the U.S. Army. His projects also included fleet modernization investment planning for the Army’s ground combat vehicles, the design of security systems to protect high-value national assets, and discrete event simulation for logistics modeling at numerous federal sites.

Much of Waddell’s research has focused on the celebrated quadratic assignment problem (QAP), one of the fundamental optimization problems in operations research. While still in graduate school, he constructed a simplifying framework that linked two areas of QAP research that had previously been seen as disconnected. His approach set the foundation for further research for QAP and related quadratic optimization problems.

“Students are beginning to realize just how far a knowledge of operations research can take them,” says Waddell. “Job applicants who understand this branch of mathematics are in great demand.”

Posted September 2018