Tamás Terlaky has earned international renown by proving repeatedly that almost any process can be made better, faster and cheaper.
Terlaky, chair of the industrial and systems engineering department and George N. and Soteria Kledaras ’87 Professor of Industrial Engineering, studies optimization, mathematical programming and high-performance computing. He is a leading developer of interior point methods, a class of algorithms used since the 1980s and still regarded as a breakthrough in solving linear and nonlinear optimization problems.
Terlaky harnesses these algorithms to optimize the core refueling process of nuclear reactors, the radiation effectiveness in cancer treatment, the maintenance scheduling of oil refineries, and more.
The fuel bundles in the core of a nuclear reactor cannot all be renewed at the same time, so Terlaky, then with Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, led a research group that used partial differential equations to describe the core’s physical characteristics. The group then developed algorithms that determine the right mix of the core’s thousands of bundles to be replaced while maintaining optimal reactor performance.
More recently, as director of McMaster University’s School of Computational Engineering and Science, and director of the Advanced Optimization Laboratory in Hamilton, Ontario, Terlaky’s team created computational methods that produce sharp images of cancerous tumors and surrounding organs. These methods enable doctors and medical physicists to optimally modulate the intensity of x-rays, thus maximizing the treatment’s effectiveness while sparing healthy organs from undue damage. Their robust optimization methodology takes into account the fact that everything in the body is constantly moving.
As department chair at Lehigh, Terlaky hopes to lead faculty in meeting new industrial and information systems engineering challenges. As a researcher, he wants to develop algorithms that optimize the performance of information technology systems and engineering design, while solving specific problems like the design and routing of an electric circuit layout.
“I am always working with engineers on specific applications, taking the theoretical over to the practical,” he says.