by Gavin le Roux
This year’s Annual Conference of the Operations Research Society of South Africa, hosted by UCT’s Department of Statistical Sciences, was held in the heart of Cape Town. Split between two venues, UCT’s Graduate School of Business and their Academic Conference Centre, we were treated with magnificent views of the V&A Waterfront in the southeast and the city’s skyline with Table Mountain as its backdrop in the southwest.
We were welcomed to the conference on the Monday morning (12 September 2022) with a breakfast of croissants, a selection of cheeses and meats and a variety of fruit and yogurt. With our stomachs full, the conference kicked off with a plenary session about transdisciplinary OR to improve decision-making in the water sector, addressed by Dr Lisa Scholten from TU Delft in the Netherlands.
There were 6 parallel sessions for the remainder of the Monday which included presentations from the National Student Competition finalists. Congratulations to Alexander Flemming and Fuzail Dawood who have consequently won the Theodor Stewart and Gerhard Geldenhuys Medals, respectively.
Since my research interests lie in the field of the use of metaheuristics to solve combinatorial optimisation problems, I was especially intrigued by the talks from Alexia van Wyk, Bowen Heinrich and Greg Harmse in the first parallel session. They covered topics such as the minimum colour cut problem, the concave knapsack problem and a vehicle routing problem with time windows.
The effects of COVID-19 on South Africa’s education system were also hot topics during the conference, particularly seen in the presentations by Dr Lieschen Venter, Dr Annette van der Merwe, Khwezi Kunene and Theresa Viljoen. Other great presentations from the first day that should not have been missed included predicting movements in financial markets by Kyle Harrison, designing a more efficient interactive voice response system by Marno du Plessis and the evaluation of the production flow in a yogurt factory by Annelie Wessels, covering a diverse range of subjects.
Once the first day of sessions were wrapped up, we headed to Mitchell’s Scottish Ale House in the V&A Waterfront (a 5-minute walk from the conference venues) where we were treated with two complementary drinks each and several platters sponsored by Stellenbosch University’s Department of Industrial Engineering.
The second day started with a plenary session by Prof Helena Ramalhinho from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. She gave a compelling speech about optimisation methodologies, models, algorithms and tools applied to NPOs and NGOs in the health, social and environmental sectors. The parallel sessions for the day included data science and learning, decision support systems, inference and statistics and health management. Some of the talks that grabbed my attention were machine learning in online environments by Robert Bennetto and lessons learnt from neurochemistry as a framework for information transfer by Rupert Spann.
Once the AGM has concluded and everyone headed back to their hotels and Airbnbs to get ready for the evening, we met at the Conference Centre Rooftop Terrace for the gala cocktail event which is always a highlight of ORSSA conferences. Unfortunately, we were only served starters (mainly small beef tacos and bowls of shredded duck) with a hint of music in the background, but the beer and wine kept our spirits up.
To make up for the shortage of food during the gala, it felt as if we had lunch twice the following day. The chicken in blue cheese sauce was a winner! The last day’s two parallel sessions (typically referred to as the graveyard shift after a long night of celebrating) comprised interesting topics such as infodemiological analysis of social media and mental health by Kurt Marais, examination timetabling at UCT using tabu search by Ebrahim Steenkamp and two thought-provoking talks by Philip Prinsloo and Samantha Downing on the Eldana saccharina Walker population which damages crops in the South African sugarcane industry. The conference ended off with a plenary session led by Prof Sara Grobbelaar from Stellenbosch University, covering systems thinking and the dynamics of innovation.
All in all, this has been a memorable and entertaining conference! It was refreshing seeing everyone in person again after two years of virtual conferences. If you have missed this year’s conference, be sure to attend next year’s conference in Pretoria which will be organised by UNISA.
Photographs from the event may be viewed here.