Christodoulos Floudas and his students Stacy Janak and Martin Taylor have invented a mathematical formula that may transform the way that day-to-day work assignments are made across government and industry.
They didnt set out to accomplish such a broad goal. Initially they were simply attempting to solve a seemingly obscure problem: figuring out the best way for the National Science Foundation to efficiently and fairly assign funding proposals for review to its many reviewers.
NSF program managers Maria Burka and T.J. Mountziaris asked Floudas, a professor of chemical engineering at Princeton, to do just that. What he, Janak (a fifth-year graduate student) and Taylor (now an M.D./Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins) came up with is an algorithm that within seconds can optimally assign 100 proposals to dozens of different reviewers.
Janak said that the difficult part of developing the model was distributing the proposals to reviewers in a fair way while taking into account the reviewers preferences for certain proposals over others.
To ensure that the model hewed to these restrictions, Janak had to use an unusual set of techniques called "logic inference principles." "Its not a methodology that a lot of people use or are aware of, but it was something that was necessary in this case to derive our model," she said.
Maria Burka of the NSF began using the algorithm on an experimental basis in April. "It works beautifully," she said.
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