Sunday, September 10, 2017

International OR2017 Berlin Conference Was Fabulous with 910 Participants from 46 Countries

Yesterday evening I arrived back in Massachusetts from the fabulous International Conference on Operations Research, OR2017 Berlin, in Germany.

The invitation to delivery a semiplenary talk at this conference I received back in November 2016 from Professor Jan Ehmke, a super creative, dynamic, and productive scholar in transportation and logistics and very well-known in our INFORMS community. Professor Ehmke was one of the two Chairs of the Program Committee, along with Professor Natalia Kliewer of the Freie University,  and was also on the Organizing Committee. It took me only about 24 hours to respond with a resounding, "Yes." I figured it was doable, although the dates of the conference September 6-8, 2017, coincided with the first week of classes at UMass Amherst. Professor Ehmke kindly scheduled my semiplenary on the Friday, the last day of the conference, so that I could meet with my Transportation & Logistics class students for the first class and a wonderful doctoral student covered the second class. (I am bringing back a lot of chocolates for the students). Also, I am delighted that we now again have a direct link from our local airport, Bradley in Hartford/Springfield, to Europe, with a daily flight to Dublin via Aer Lingus, which made the trip to Europe and back in 4 days manageable.

I gave Dr. Ehmke a list of topics that I could speak on and the one selected was: Blood Supply Chains: Challenges for the Industry and How Operations Research Can Help. 

So, after teaching my first class this past Tuesday, I was off to the OR2017 Berlin conference via Aer Lingus, with a short layover in Dublin, and I arrived Wednesday morning in Berlin. Accommodations were in the Harnack Haus, a historical scientific building, with additional rooms across the street and in proximity to the conference venue, which was the Freie University, in a green and stunning part of Berlin known as Dahlem.
 The main building there for the conference was the Henry Ford Building.
Shortly after registering at the guest house, and while marching with my luggage to the site of my room, I was greeted on the street by the Chairs of the conference: Professor Natalia Kliewer and Professor Rolf Borndorfer of the Freie University.

After freshening up, and, before going to the sessions, since the scientific program with a theme of the conference being: Decision Analytics for the Digital Economy, I treated myself to a marvelous lunch at the neighboring French cafe (several of us also indulged in some baked treats the day after).
The conference had numerous coffee breaks, receptions, a conference dinner, and even lunches, at which one could socialize and discuss with speakers their research.
Below is a photo taken with Professor Ehmke.
It was special to see my colleague from the University of Connecticut School of Business, Professor and now Associate Dean Robert Day, who also took advantage of our new air link to Europe.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the talks that I attended and, of course, the plenary and semiplenary talks, as well (although it was tough to decide which ones to go since the latter had multiple parallel ones).  The scientific quality of the presentations was uniformly excellent and I very much enjoyed talks from sustainability and logistics themes to social network models to machine learning and optimization.
I enjoyed speaking with Christian Rauscher, a Springer editor, and his colleague at the Springer display booth. I have seen Christian at wonderful Operations Research conferences around the globe.
Also it was a pleasure to see fellow INFORMS Fellow, Dr. Robert Fourer, who even came to my semiplenary talk.

Another wonderful experience was seeing the one and only Professor Marco Lubbecke from Aachen, who also gave a semiplenary talk and meeting Professor Jan Ehmke's dissertation supervisor at a sumptious breakfast: Professor Dirk Mattfeld.

Professor Stefan Zimmer was the chair of my semiplenary session and afterwards I was presented with a lovely gift of a personalized mug with the title of my talk on it and some yummy gummy bears inside.
After my presentation, I spoke with conferees from India who are also working on blood supply chains. Amazing to have 46 different countries represented at this conference!
And to make this conference experience extraordinarily special, while taking an exploratory walk after sessions on Thursday I saw the billboard of Angela Merkel below

and I came upon the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Freie University, where I had given an invited talk 15 years ago, when I was a Distinguished Chair at the University of Innsbruck under a Fulbright.
Coincidentally, when I received my PhD from Brown University in Applied Mathematics in 1983, with a specialty in Operations Research, John F. Kennedy Jr. received his undergraduate degree and his mother, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, was there (and my mother was thrilled). I have also met his sister Caroline Kennedy at an event at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University a while back.

This was my third trip to Berlin - in March 2015 I  gave a plenary talk at a physics conference entitled: Design of Sustainable Supply Chains for Sustainable Cities.

The OR2017 Berlin conference set new standards as to attention to detail and organization and I am very grateful for experiences that I will never forget.

Of course, I also had to indulge in some Wiener schnitzel, which will keep me fortified for quite a while, and it was as delicious as it looks in the photo below.

And, on my flight back from Dublin to Hartford/Springfield I rewarded myself by watching the movie Hidden Figures, about AfroAmerican female mathematicians who made an impact on the NASA space program. And, when the Euler method was mentioned as the method Katherine Johnson used to approximate a very important trajectory in a eureka type moment, I was thrilled. Our work on projected dynamical systems, which I had mentioned in my semiplenary talk, also involves a general iterative scheme, with a special case being the Euler method!

Plus, guess which books have been on my bedside stand?!
During OR2017 Berlin, we received messages that the INFORMS conference will take place at the originally scheduled dates in Houston, despite Hurricane Harvey, so I hope to see again many colleagues back in the US. And, strangely enough, the case study that I described in my semiplenary talk, based on our recently published paper, was focused on a blood service organization in Florida potentially merging with another organization under status quo and disaster scenarios, and now we await the brunt force of Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Operations Research has never been more important!