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Mathematical models lead to palpable progress

by Stephanie Shimada
Jong-Shi Pang uses mathematical algorithms to improve efficiency in essential operations such as pricing and production. (USC Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)
Jong-Shi Pang uses mathematical algorithms to improve efficiency in essential operations such as pricing and production. (USC Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

For as long as he can remember, Jong-Shi Pang has had an insatiable curiosity about why things work. It is this curiosity that continues to inspire the incoming USC professor’s vision for using mathematical models to solve the major issues now facing society in health and social sciences, homeland security and communications systems.

Pang joins the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, where he hopes to tap into USC’s diverse, multidisciplinary resources.

“I’d like to participate in [the] efforts of solving the Grand Challenges to the extent that I can,” said Pang, referring to the ambitious goals that harness science, technology and innovation to solve national or global problems. “USC is at the leading edge of knowledge in these areas, and I am happy to be a part of it.”

Pang’s research provides solutions for a myriad of challenges, such as helping farmers how to decide on farming for food or fuel crops — the former to be sold to markets for consumption and the latter to be sold to biofuel companies for production.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect about Pang’s models and results are their wide applicability. One algorithm can provide solutions for multiple problems in various industries. It can also be used to explain physical and conceptual phenomena.

Pang’s work falls into the realm of equilibrium programming — a form of optimization that uses mathematical algorithms to facilitate efficient system design, which helps companies with basic operations — manufacturing, production and pricing. His research can help a company attain the best possible outcome, such as establishing a product’s lowest purchase price or its largest output.

“Pang’s work on equilibrium programming has actually opened up a whole variety of new applications for power, gas and robotics,” said Suvrajeet Sen, USC Viterbi professor of industrial and systems engineering. “People can now do important science or engineering work because of the kinds of models Professor Pang has been working on.”

Pang is well known within optimization circles because of his groundbreaking work, Sen said. The engineer is among a small group of scholars who have received the George B. Dantzig Prize, which is awarded for the breadth and scope of original research, and the Frederick W. Lanchester Prize, which is handed out for the best contribution to operations research.

“I enjoy exploring how mathematics can be applied to realistic situations, and I strive to create new knowledge that can be applied to other areas,” said Pang, who holds a PhD in operations research from Stanford University.

Pang most recently served as the first head of the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering at the University of Illinois, where he helped to establish the department. Now that is on solid ground, he is ready to embark on his next challenge at USC.

“I came here because of colleagues and the ambition of the engineering school,“ Pang said. “The school is always becoming better and is highly productive. I see this as an opportunity where I can help.”

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