ACEMS Chief Investigator Awarded Top Medal from Operations Research Society

The Australian Society for Operations Research (ASOR) has awarded Professor Kate Smith-Miles its top honour, the Ren Potts Medal, announced at its annual conference in Canberra this week.

The national medal honours a person for outstanding contributions to the theory or practice of operations research in Australia.

“My main field of work has always been in Operations Research. So to be recognised by this community means a great deal,” said Kate, an ACEMS Chief Investigator at The University of Melbourne.

ASOR named the award after Ren Potts, a Professor and foundational Chair of Applied Mathematics at The University of Adelaide, a position he held for more than 30 years. Professor Potts is known for his achievements in operations research, especially network models arising in traffic analysis and early computer advances.

It is his development of the Potts Model however, in the early 1950s during his PhD at the University of Oxford, that holds particular significance for Kate.

“Almost 50 years later, I was using the same concept to model brain dynamics, probably in a way he never anticipated. Such is the value of great mathematics that finds unexpected applications,” said Kate.

Kate’s research has focused on many different applications. They include developing ground-breaking methods to better test algorithms, and working with real-world problems involving transportation networks, cancer, insurance, the stock market, and mobile phones, to name a few.

ASOR first started awarding this medal in the mid-1990s. Kate is only the 10th recipient of the award, and the first woman to receive it. ACEMS Director Peter Taylor was the last recipient of the medal two years ago. The first recipient was Dr Bruce Craven, from The University of Melbourne.

“Bruce was the lecturer who first introduced me to Operations Research as an undergraduate. So it is such an honour to be awarded this medal given the influential mathematicians in its history,” said Kate.

Kate is a Professor of Applied Mathematics at The University of Melbourne and an Australian Research Council Australian Laureate Fellow. In 2017, the Australian and New Zealand Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ANZIAM) Society awarded her the E.O. Tuck Medal for outstanding research and distinguished service over the last 20 years. Kate is also the immediate past President of the Australian Mathematical Society (AustMS), whose medal she was awarded in 2010.