Systems Optimization Laboratory
Stanford, CA 94305-4026 USA
Saunders "optimizes" his time at Stanford
By Eric Grunwald
Office of Technology Licensing
Stanford, Spring 1992
Do you have a problem? Not a small problem, but a really big one?
Perhaps Dr. Michael Saunders can help you.
You won't find Professor Saunders in the psychology department, however,
and the answers he's likely to give you will have little to do with Sigmund
Freud. Dr. Saunders is a Research Professor in the Systems Optimization
Laboratory (SOL) in Stanford's Operations Research Department and co-author
of the optimization program known as MINOS.
Dr. Saunders, born in Christchurch, New Zealand, first came to Stanford in 1967
as a graduate student in computer science. After finishing his Ph.D. in 1972,
he returned to New Zealand to work as a government scientist. "I hated
leaving Stanford," Saunders says. "It was a very traumatic experience."
Back in New Zealand he met up with Bruce Murtagh, a fellow New
Zealander who had studied optimization in England. Large-scale linear
programming was already a well-established tool, but the two decided
to make the leap to large-scale nonlinear, and MINOS was born.
Saunders did the main work on MINOS two years later, back at Stanford
as a research associate.
MINOS (Modular Incore Nonlinear Optimization System) is now used to
solve large-scale optimization problems having thousands or even tens
of thousands of equations and variables. Over 800 copies of MINOS
have been distributed to universities, companies and other
organizations world-wide, and thousands more are used as "black boxes"
inside a modeling system called GAMS.
After two more years in New Zealand distributing MINOS, Saunders
returned to Stanford for good in 1979 as a senior research associate,
joining Walter Murray, Philip Gill and Margaret Wright in SOL in what
came to be known as the "Gang of Four."
Since then, Saunders has spent his time continually reworking MINOS
and developing other optimization software such as LSSOL and NPSOL
(also distributed by the Software Distribution Center at OTL) with the
Gang of Four. Much of the software revenue has gone back into a
research fund to support their work.
Saunders finished MINOS 5.0 in 1983, at which time he was still
copying and distributing the tapes himself. "It was getting harder
and harder to keep up," he remembers. "It was taking up far too much
OTL then agreed to take over the licensing and distribution of MINOS.
"OTL has been very, very helpful," Saunders says. "They made it
feasible to distribute much more widely," adding that OTL did work on
commercial licensing that he couldn't have done himself.
Despite a lack of competition and any significant complaints,
Saunders, who became a research professor in 1987, isn't at all
complacent. "I lie awake at night," he says, "worrying that thousands
of people are using MINOS, and there's really no guarantee it will
solve all of their problems." He says his main task now is to improve
the reliability and efficiency of his optimization programs.
But Saunders has another major commitment now: 2-year-old daughter
Tania Michelle. "It was fairly late in the day," Saunders chuckles,
"but it was much to my amazement and delight." The photos of Tania
and Prudence, his wife of 24 years, covering the wall above his desk
attest to that. "I don't think I'll need OTL's help on this one,"
Saunders laughs. "Tania seemed optimal from day one."