“Nature Optimizes Things the Best Way”
On October 5th, high level HSE management and leading faculty members had a meeting with Panos Pardalos, Distinguished Professor of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Florida, USA, to discuss plans and future opportunities for a new Laboratory at the HSE branch in Nizhny Novgorod. The Laboratory of Algorithms and Technologies of Network Structures will be established through a grant from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science. What does Professor Pardalos think of the Lab projects?
— Professor Pardalos, how did your cooperation with colleagues at the HSE branch in Nizhny Novgorod begin?
— I had a few Russian PhD students at the University of Florida. This is a small world, and when scholars, no matter where they live, work on similar projects, they know about each other, meet at international conferences and discuss relevant challenges in their fields of study.
— What is your motivation for joining the HSE team and heading the lab in Nizhny Novrogod?
— The dynamics of information plays an increasing role in our society. Networks affect our lives every day and the influence of information on social, biological, genetic and military systems must be better understood in order for them to continue to advance.
The Lab’s activity will be related to the fields of Information Technology and Computer Science. We plan to study the fundamental problems of the analysis and optimization of network structures that play an important role in modern information and communication technologies, including distributed cloud computing, telecommunications, human interaction and information technologies in social networks and complex business applications. The spontaneous development of various network structures is well ahead of the level of the theoretical framework for analysis and optimization. So, in fact, many network structures face serious problems which threaten not only the stability, but the entire existence of the network.
These problems currently have no adequate solutions within the framework of existing theories and methods of analysis. I’m very interested in studying these challenges with my Russian colleagues.
— Next week you are taking part in a workshop at the Fields Institute (USA), and the subject of your presentation is the structure of brain network models based on the analysis of physiological data. Can you explain your interest in this medical issue, please?
— For the last few years I have been working with a group of students, engineers and neuroscientists on brain dynamics. One problem we have studied extensively is the epileptic brain functions. Our investigation includes the prediction and control of epileptic seizures based on electro-encephalogram data analysis. This work involves chaos theory, mathematics of networks, statistics and mathematical programming. The next step of this project will be a thorough analysis of brain activity in people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
A study of how the brain works and its dynamics in general can help a lot with understanding the mechanism of decision making, which is very important in every sphere of human life and activity. In fact, the results of this study may affect some current research in economics or marketing. We want to understand how people think, how they behave and react in normal or catastrophic events, how they reach certain decisions or solutions. This sort of research attracts scholars of different disciplines and professional interests. And, in general, now the focus of every good project should be interdisciplinary in order to solve the most difficult contemporary problems.
— About 10 years ago Oxford University Press published your Handbook of Applied Optimization and it’s still one of the best books on optimization algorithms. What are your more recent publications about?
— I’m interested in problems that are important in any field of human endeavor: data analysis in the diagnosis of cancer or causes of low yields or why a particular architectural style is so beautiful.
I’ve just published a book on the mathematics of telecommunications. And now my colleague Boris Goldenrogin and I are discussing the possibility of writing a book together on how to solve certain combinatorial optimization issues and a new methodology of handling combinatorial problems. So far there are no effective computational procedures that can offer an optimal solution and at the same time answer the question of whether it’s the only solution or not. This project is only a small part of the fundamental research on how algorithms can be built up and what properties they should possess.
— You are giving a seminar at the HSE today. What’s the topic?
— I’ll be talking about some general issues of global optimization as a set of tools. To put it briefly, if you have a project, you’re interested in maximizing its profit and minimizing its cost. The model is mathematical so you need to develop techniques to find the best solution of many. The title of the seminar is “From local to global” and it means that people who work out techniques and look for solutions normally find the best solution for the nearest small neighborhood. It’s a very difficult problem to find the globally best solution. So I will talk about some applications for global optimization which involve different types of knowledge from various sciences: mathematics, telecommunications, physics, biology, etc. Nature always optimizes things in the best way possible and we need to try and understand how and why this occurs.
— How do you manage to combine such a heavy research workload in various fields, publications and intensive teaching? And what do you like about teaching?
— I think that we are academics because we like to get involved with people. When you deal with students, who are usually very young, you just feel younger yourself and never think of aging. I enjoy teaching. And when you enjoy something you don’t even notice that time is passing.
Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service
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