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This site provides a central location for information about the INFORMS Student Chapter at CMU (official recognition by INFORMS in progress as of Spring 2014).

In particular, you will see abstracts of upcoming talks for our student seminar. The seminar is currently (Spring 2014) organized by Aleksandr Kazachkov. Please contact him if you are interested in giving a talk. See a list of all our previous talks on the Student Seminar page.

In Spring 2014, talks are on TBD in room TBD.

For more info, see the announcements below or on the Quick Calendar in the sidebar.

4/18/14 - Learning Lunch: Gröbner Bases

posted Apr 17, 2014, 9:34 AM by Aleksandr Kazachkov

OVERVIEW: This will be a "learning lunch" --- a series in which we try to grasp the basics of a topic of interest to the operations research / computer science / math community... over lunch! (Bring your own lunch.) If you have a topic that you have been intending to learn more about, suggest it for a future learning lunch.

WHEN: 4/18/14, 12:00pm

WHERE: Posner 147

DETAILS: We will (together) review the basics of Gröbner bases, which has applications, for example, to integer programming and to the television series NUMB3RS: (From Wolfram) "In the Season 4 opening episode "Trust Metric" (2007) of the television crime drama NUMB3RS, math genius Charlie Eppes mentions that he used Gröbner bases in an attempt to derive an equation describing friendship."

Please glance at this article: Other good or better resources may be available; bring any you know or find.

From the article: "A Gröbner basis is a set of multivariate polynomials that has desirable algorithmic properties. Every set of polynomials can be transformed into a Gröbner basis. This process generalizes three familiar techniques: Gaussian elimination for solving linear systems of equations, the Euclidean algorithm for computing the greatest common divisor of two univariate polynomials, and the Simplex Algorithm for linear programming."

4/11/14 - Review for Thomas Talk

posted Apr 8, 2014, 8:21 PM by Aleksandr Kazachkov   [ updated Apr 15, 2014, 4:20 PM ]

WHEN: 4/11/14, 12:00pm

WHERE: Posner 147

On Friday, April 11, Rekha Thomas (University of Washington, Mathematics Department) will be giving a talk. The seminar will start at 1:00pm in Posner 343. We will meet at 12:00pm to discuss some necessary background that will hopefully help us better understand the talk.

Please read or glance through the paper in advance, and we will work through any particular questions together. The paper can be found here:

Approximate Cone Factorizations and Lifts of Polytopes

A common idea to optimize a linear function over a complicated convex set is to express the set as the projection of a much simpler convex set in higher dimension, called a "lift". In 1991 Yannakakis established a remarkable connection between the size of the smallest polyhedral lift of a polytope and the nonnegative rank of the slack matrix of the polytope. In this talk I will explain a robust generalization of Yannakakis' result showing that approximate factorizations of the slack matrix yield inner and outer approximations of a polytope. The quality of the approximations depends on the quality of the factorization, and these bodies have many nice properties and connections to known approximations such as the Dikin ellipsoid from non-linear programming. Joint work with Joao Gouveia (University of Coimbra) and Pablo Parrilo (MIT).

4/4/14 - Review for Vinzant Talk

posted Apr 1, 2014, 8:06 AM by Aleksandr Kazachkov   [ updated Apr 15, 2014, 4:21 PM ]

WHEN: 4/4/14, 10:00am

WHERE: Posner 147

On Friday, April 4, Cynthia Vinzant will be giving a talk. The seminar will start at 1:00 pm in GSIA 322. We will meet at 10:00 am to discuss some necessary background that will hopefully help us better understand the talk.

Please read or glance through the paper in advance, and we will work through any particular questions together. The paper (I believe) can be found here:

Determinants, hyperbolicity and interlacing
Writing a multivariate polynomial as the determinant of a matrix of linear forms is a classical problem in algebraic geometry and complexity theory. Requiring that this matrix is Hermitian and positive definite at some point puts topological and algebraic restrictions on the polynomials that appear as the determinant and its minors. In particular the real zero sets of these polynomials are hyperbolic (or real stable) and interlace. I'll talk about the beautiful geometry behind these determinants and its connection to optimization and combinatorics.

3/28/14 - Posner 147 - Review for Lan Talk

posted Mar 26, 2014, 5:47 PM by Aleksandr Kazachkov

WHEN: 3/28/14, 9:00am

WHERE: Posner 147

On Friday, March 28, Guanghui Lan will be giving a talk. The seminar will start at 1:30 pm in Posner 151. We will meet at 9:00 am to discuss some necessary background that will hopefully help us better understand the talk.

Please read or glance through the paper in advance, and we will work through any particular questions together. The paper can be found here:

Title: Stochastic First–and Zeroth–Order Methods for Nonconvex Stochastic Programming

Abstract: In this paper, we introduce a new stochastic approximation (SA) type algorithm, namely the randomized stochastic gradient (RSG) method, for solving an important class of nonlinear (possibly nonconvex) stochastic programming (SP) problems. We establish the complexity of this method for computing an approximate stationary point of a nonlinear programming problem. We also show that this method possesses a nearly optimal rate of convergence if the problem is convex. We discuss a variant of the algorithm which consists of applying a post-optimization phase to evaluate a short list of solutions generated by several independent runs of the RSG method, and show that such modification allows to improve significantly the large-deviation properties of the algorithm. These methods are then specialized for solving a class of simulation-based optimization problems in which only stochastic zeroth-order information is available. 

Keywords: stochastic approximation, nonconvex optimization, stochastic programming, simulation-based optimization

3/21/14 - Posner 147 - Review for Pokutta Talk

posted Mar 20, 2014, 8:49 AM by Aleksandr Kazachkov   [ updated Mar 20, 2014, 8:50 AM ]

WHEN: 3/21/14, 11:00am

WHERE: Posner 147


On Friday, March 21, Sebastian Pokutta (Georgia Tech) will be giving a talk (details below). The talk will start at 1:00pm in Posner 147.

It would be a good idea to meet for an hour as a group and discuss some necessary background that will help us understand the talk.

Please read or glance through the paper in advance, and come ready with questions. We will work through them together.

On the existence of 0/1 polytopes with high semidefinite extension complexity
In Rothvoss it was shown that there exists a 0/1 polytope (a polytope whose vertices are in \{0,1\}^{n}) such that any higher-dimensional polytope projecting to it must have 2^{\Omega(n)} facets, i.e., its linear extension complexity is exponential. The question whether there exists a 0/1 polytope with high PSD extension complexity was left open. We answer this question in the affirmative by showing that there is a 0/1 polytope such that any spectrahedron projecting to it must be the intersection of a semidefinite cone of dimension~2^{\Omega(n)} and an affine space. Our proof relies on a new technique to rescale semidefinite factorizations. We also show the existence of a polygon with d integral vertices and semidefinite extension complexity Omega((d/ \log d)^1/4). (Joint work with J. Briet and D. Dadush)

10/3/13 - GSIA 324 - Sercan Yıldız (Tepper ACO)

posted Oct 1, 2013, 8:41 AM by Aleksandr Kazachkov

We will have at least the first talk, and maybe the second talk. (Both are intended to be short talks for INFORMS.)

    (1) Minimal Valid Inequalities for Constrained Infinite Relaxations of MILPs
    (2) Sufficiency of Cut-Generating Functions

WHEN: Thursday, 10/3/13, 12:30pm


(1) Our results are relevant to the theory of cutting planes for mixed integer linear programs (MILP). We consider the infinite relaxation of a MILP in tableau form. We first generalize a classical result of Gomory and Johnson which characterizes minimal valid inequalities for this model. We then use this characterization to establish necessary conditions for the unique lifting of inequalities obtained for a variant of this model in which all nonbasic variables are continuous.

(2) Cut-generating functions have their origin in the work of Gomory and Johnson from the 1970's and have received renewed attention in recent years. We settle an open problem and show that cut-generating functions are able to generate all possible cuts with a positive right-hand side under a technical sufficient condition.

9/26/13 - GSIA 228-H - Sherwin Doroudi (Tepper OM)

posted Sep 22, 2013, 5:57 PM by Aleksandr Kazachkov

TITLE: Flexible Matching: Delays in Multiplayer Online Games

WHEN: Thursday, 9/26/13, 12:30-1:30


We explore a model for matching opponents of similar skill levels in online games (e.g. Chess or Starcraft), where players increase in their matching flexibility over time.  Although very simple to explain, the model results in a challenging mathematical problem in applied probability combining aspects of queueing theory, matching, and stochastic geometry.  This talk is on work still in progress.

8/28/13 - GSIA 324 - Qihang Lin (Tepper ACO)

posted Aug 24, 2013, 3:22 PM by Aleksandr Kazachkov

TITLE: Dissertation Defense: Large-Scale Optimization for Machine Learning and Sequential Decision Making

WHEN: 8/28/13, 1:30pm


Thanks to the development of the modern digital technology, people today are able to generate, collect and store data of unprecedented volume, dimension and complexity. This growing trend of big data brings new needs for powerful tools to explore and analyze different data sets. Among different tools for data analysis, structured regression is one of the most popular techniques. It has been successfully applied to data from many disciplines in business, science and engineering. A structured regression model is formulated as an optimization problem using a large number of decision variables. Traditional techniques often suffer from low scalability and unaffordable computational time when applied to solve optimization problems in such a large scale. To address this challenge, in the first main part of this thesis, we propose several optimization methods with low memory requirements for different structured regression problems based on homotopy, smoothing, stochastic sampling and other techniques. In particular, our contributions include: 1. A gradient homotopy method for the Lasso problem, the most popular structured regression model. This method converges to the optimality in a linear rate. This rate improves the traditional sub-linear rate, which is theoretically not improvable if an algorithm is only allowed to use black-box gradient information. The reason for us to achieve a better complexity is that our method fully utilizes the local strong convexity property of the Lasso problem under the restricted eigenvalue assumption, which provides much more information than gradients. 2. A smoothing proximal gradient algorithm for solving general structured regressions. One difficulty of applying first-order methods to structured regressions with sophisticated penalty terms is that the proximal mapping, which must be computed in each iteration, does not have a closed-form solution. The algorithm we proposed constructs a smooth approximation to the penalty terms so that the proximal mapping can be computed in closed form, and thus, first-order methods can be applied efficiently. 3. A unified theoretical framework for analyzing the geometric nature of different first-order methods. We show that most popular versions of the accelerated gradient methods essentially construct an estimate sequence of the optimization problem in different ways. This explains why these methods achieve the same optimal convergence rate even with different updating schemes. 4. A stochastic first-order method for structured regression, which utilizes a stochastic gradient constructed using only a random sample of the whole data set. This method is favorable when the size of the data grows beyond the storage capacity and deterministic first-order methods cannot be applied due to the overwhelming computational cost involved with computing the exact gradient. Our method achieves the “uniformly” optimal complexity, which means, when the noise of the stochastic gradient is reduced to zero, our method achieves the optimal complexity as a deterministic first-order method. By contrast, the traditional stochastic gradient methods would still have sub-optimal complexity The challenges of large-scale optimization arise not only from the large volume of data but also from the exponential rate of growth of the number of variables in multistage decision making models. In the second main part of this thesis, we explore the scalability of first-order methods in the latter case. We focus on the optimal trade execution problem under coherent dynamic risk measure. This is a large-scale multistage stochastic optimization problem that arises in financial engineering. Relying on the dual representation of the coherent risk measure, we can formulate this problem as a saddle-point problem and solve it with a primal-dual first-order method. The truncated simplex structure of the primal and dual domains allows us to obtain a closed-form solution to the relevant proximal mapping sub-problem, resulting in an efficient implementation of this first-order method. Our models and algorithms are tested on limit order book real data and demonstrate promising numerical properties. Furthermore, we generalize the same primal-dual first-order method to the case where the multistage decision making problem is modeled with a scenario tree in a non-Markovian fashion. In the last part of the thesis, we discuss future research directions in optimization techniques for solving high-dimensional structured regression problems and multistage decision making problems from both the theoretical and computational aspects.

5/6/13 - Wean 8220 - Charalampos (Babis) Tsourakakis: Dissertation Defense

posted May 1, 2013, 10:38 AM by Aleksandr Kazachkov   [ updated May 1, 2013, 11:12 PM ]

TITLE: Mathematical and algorithmic analysis of network and biological data

WHEN: 5/6/13, 10am

WHERE: Wean 8220

ABSTRACT: The first main topic of this dissertation is network science.
Complexity in social, biological and economical systems, and more generally
in complex systems, arises through pairwise interactions.
Therefore, there exists a surging interest in understanding networks. 
Our work is motivated by the following questions: 
How do we model real-world planar networks such as transportation networks? 
How can we  transfer classified information between agencies in communication networks 
safely? How can we compute efficiently important graph statistics, such as the number
of triangles in a graph? 
How can we extract dense subgraphs from large-scale graphs in order 
to detect spam link farms and more generally thematic groups? 
What is the structure of the Web graph? How do real-world networks evolve over time? 
This dissertation approaches these important applications' questions from different angles
by combining a mathematical, algorithmic and experimental analysis of networks. 

The second main topic of our work is cancer evolution. 
High-throughput sequencing technologies %,  such as DNA microarrays, chip-Seq, RNA-Seq, SNP calling, metagenomics,
allow us to study tumors by providing us various types
of datasets, such as datasets measuring gains and losses of chromosomal regions in tumor cells.  
Can we understand how cancer progresses by analyzing these datasets? 
Can we detect in an unsupervised manner cancer subtypes in order to improve cancer therapeutics? 
Motivated by these questions, we provide new models,  
theoretical insights into existing models, novel algorithmic techniques 
and detailed experimental analysis of various datasets. 

Finally, the third central topic of our thesis is big graph data. 
The scale of graph data that is nowadays collected and required to be processed is massive. 
This fact poses numerous challenges. In this work we tackle with two
major challenges,  engineering an efficient graph processing platform
and balanced graph partitioning of dynamic graphs.

3/5/13 - Posner 147 - Dave Bergman's Dissertation

posted Feb 19, 2013, 8:51 AM by Aleksandr Kazachkov   [ updated Feb 28, 2013, 6:40 PM ]




New Techniques for Discrete Optimization



David Bergman


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

10:00 am

147 Posner Hall





Abstract and dissertation available under "Upcoming Defenses" at:


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