Operations Research is a field that applies mathematical modeling and statistical analysis to complex systems so that decisions can be made to improve or optimize the system. This quantitative approach to decision-making is useful in systems with non-obvious trade-offs and/or multiple conflicting objectives.

For over 20 years, ME Professor Alexandra Newman has been applying the principles of operations research to interdisciplinary problems in transportation logistics, mine production scheduling, energy policy and building design, military applications, and athletics. In 2011, she launched the PhD- granting Operations Research with Engineering interdisciplinary graduate program (ORwE, orwe.mines.edu). The program added non-thesis master’s degrees in 2019. In 2013, Newman was selected as the recipient of the Prize for the Teaching of the OR/MS Practice awarded by the professional society INFORMS.

In 2020, the ORwE program earned the top spot for all-time (50-year) Rothkopf Rankings, which is an index to identify universities, research labs, government agencies and organizations in private industry that contribute the most to the practice literature – specifically to INFORMS Journal on Applied Analytics (formerly Interfaces).

The inherent interdisciplinarity of operations research is evident in the variety of projects undertaken by ORwE students. Recent ORwE PhD graduate Oluwaseun “Seun” Ogunmodede focused his thesis on improving the efficiency of large-scale optimization in heavy industry. By applying a set of modeling techniques to problems in renewable energy and mining, Seun demonstrated financial and logistical benefits. Specifically, Seun’s renewable energy work improved an existing design and dispatch model and incorporated combined heat and power to determine a minimum-cost solution while considering load, operational and logistical constraints. Seun’s model showed a potential savings of millions of dollars. He also developed an underground mine production scheduling model that considers ventilation and refrigeration while managing heat load output (see image below). The model revealed new feasible solutions.


A color scale model of heat in an underground mine. Darker colors represent higher temperatures. Heat from auto-compression, the rock and diesel equipment can create unsafe work conditions and affect production scheduling. (Source: CHASM Consulting, 2015)


Underground mine design and scheduling: Current mine design and subsequent production scheduling is based on a single ore extraction method; however, the ability to design for multiple extraction methods would increase mine profitability. One ongoing ORwE project aims to develop a methodology that combines formal optimization with heuristics to design an underground mine that uses two extraction methods.

Concentrating solar power: Two ORwE projects are focused on different aspects of concentrating solar power (CSP). One developed a program to optimize the number and assignment of wash trucks that clean dust from the mirrors that direct sunlight to a central receiver. The second CSP project investigated models to optimize the design and dispatch of CSP tower systems with and without photovoltaic generation. As renewable energy penetration grows, accurate and computationally inexpensive system modeling is needed to evaluate system designs given various resource and market constraints.

Continuous steel casting and rolling: This ORwE project developed a program for an optimal daily casting schedule that minimizes penalties from violating plant best practices while adhering to strict safety and logical constraints to manage risk for manufacturing incidents that can occur in the rolling mill.

NBA playoff elimination determination: ORwE researchers, alumni and friends, together with colleagues at Southern Methodist University, maintain a suite of integer-programming models that determine NBA playoff standings sooner, on average, than the sports media. RIOT Sports (RIOT stands for Remote Interactive Optimization Testbed) can be found at riot-smu.mines.edu and has expanded to include the WNBA, MLB, and KBO (Korean Baseball League Organization).