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International research helps developing communities connect

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How to manage connections among developing communities will be the overall theme of an international operational research conference to be held in Sandton on 13-18 July 2008.

Hans Ittmann of South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and chairperson of the local organising committee, says: "It is the first time that this conference, which is held every three years, will be hosted on the African continent since it inception in 1959. This is a strong vote of confidence in the local operations research community and especially in the Operations Research Society of South Africa (ORSSA)".
Close to 600 speakers will share their experience with the audience of more than 700 participants at this conference of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS).
Many South African operations researchers as well as those from African countries will have the opportunity to attend this international conference and network with top operations researchers from across the world.
Participants will hail from IFORS member countries, including from the Asian-Pacific, Europe, North America, South America and Africa. IFORS will also be celebrating its 50th anniversary during the conference.
"Operations research tries to address and solve real-life problems through a scientific approach. Mathematical modelling and simulation are typically used to represent such problems, while various techniques and algorithms are developed to solve these problems," explains Ittmann.
People often think of operations research in narrow terms. How can a manufacturing operation be done more effectively or how can goods be shipped cheaper?
Operations research can have a much broader effect on the community, particularly for those people in developing circumstances, he says. It can look for answers in providing medical care to the very poor and to make information technology accessible to all schools, not only the advantaged ones.
Operations research also investigates how the global economic system affects agriculture, mining and other primary resource extraction economies.
In addition to parallel presentations, plenary speakers at the conference include: Vijay Chandru  of the Indian Academy of Science; Clem Sunter  of Anglo American; Luk van Wassenhove  of INSEAD in France; and Donald Ratliff  of Georgia Institute of Technology, US.
About 12 CSIR researchers will present papers on their work. Operations research has been conducted and used by the CSIR for more than 40 years, with research focusing on solving complex problems, using mainly quantitative methods.
This is achieved through the analysis and interpretation of data and information, the formulation of mathematical models and proposing ways to improve performance, optimise results and guide business decisions.