Optimisation in the real world - One year in

14th March 2019

Optimisation in the real world is an initiative of mine to inform the general public about the wonderful uses of optimisation. The main goal is to provide accessible material so that people can gain an understanding of how optimisation is used in various industries. I believe that through education we are able to better engage with industry and the general public. This will hopefully in turn drive impact from our research in Operations Research.

How did it all start

This whole project started as part of my EPSRC Fellowship that is hosted at Lancaster University. A major part of the proposal process is to detail how you plan to achieve "impact" from your research. As an early career research, achieving impact is not the easiest thing because this is typically related to industrial impact. Also, as I was not living in the UK at the time I was writing the proposal, I had no contacts to be able to draw upon to deliver this impact. So I dropped any idea of trying for direct industrial impact, but went with the indirect route through education.

I modelled my idea of the website from the work from one of my wife's colleagues, Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick. Sarah works on extreme events in our weather and climate, in particular heat waves. So as part of one of her projects, Sarah developed Scorcher. I really found this website to be very simple way to describe a complicated topic. Since I felt the design of this website worked really well for its audience, it gave me some inspiration for my own website.

Developing the content

This part was pretty easy, since the main page of a website doesn't really want to have much information. The main page is there to get you hooked. So from the purposes of developing the content, this was more up to the web developers to make it look cool.

I have to say that I am very happy with the work from the web developers. I worked with a local group in Lancaster, Urban Attic and really gave them free reign on the graphic design. The guide that I gave them was the content from the home page, so they just pulled some keywords from that and created some amazing images.

Updating the content

Here is where much of the effort comes in. The main driver of this constant updating is through a blog. The aim here is to continuously update the blog with different applications of optimisation and operations research. Some of these are things that I have worked on myself in the past, but others are topics that I came across while talking with people. While this can be time consuming at times, it is quite fun to think about where optimisation is being used throughout this world.

Some of the things that I have enjoyed researching and writing about are:

  • Using variants of the travelling salesman problem to visit a theme park.
  • Discussing the use of vehicle routing problems to help food banks with the food distribution.
  • Thinking about the machine scheduling problem tackled while operating a brewery.
  • It is great to have a platform to write about some interesting applications of optimisation.


    I have been very happy about the reception of this website. It has been much better received than I ever expected it would be. While at conferences, I have had a number of people come and talk to me about this website. Also, people have told me that it has been used in their teaching and as a way of explaining to non-experts what is optimisation and operations research. So in many ways I would call this a success.

    Another benefit that has come from this work is that I have something to show potential industry collaborators. While I have my personal website, this is much more digestible and people are able to get a good sense of what I am trying to talk to them about. So while I didn't have any industry contacts before coming to the UK, this website has helped me initiate conversations about potential projects and build up that network.

    A final, unexpected thing, is that people have asked whether I would like contributors. This is something that I would really like to encourage. This does not have to be only my work. If more people add blogs, then we can all benefit from this as the general public learn more about the applications of optimisation.

    Where to go to from here

    I am lucky to have had the opportunity to develop this website as a platform for educating people about the varied uses of optimisation techniques. To continue this project, I will be constantly on the look out for new applications to update my blog. As mentioned previously, something that I would like to look into more is the possibility of other contributors. This would mean that we could have a much more varied set of applications, as people with different expertise would bring new ideas along with them.