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Students working on their operations solutions at TORCH.

How do you program a robot to navigate a zombie-infested campus? That was one of many problems that 80 high school students from grades 9 through 12, had to solve during the third-annual Operations Research Challenge (TORCH).

TORCH is a one-day contest that introduces students to the field of operations research. “Operations research combines ideas from many quantitative fields. Students learn to utilize these skills in finding a solution to interesting problems,” said Professor Timothy Chan (MIE). Interesting problems can range from ‘How do you devise a treatment plan for lung cancer?’ to ‘How can you help Katniss Everdeen survive the Hunger Games?’

Operations Research, or simply OR, is an interdisciplinary science that uses scientific methods like mathematical modelling, statistics and algorithms to make decisions related to the coordination and effectiveness of any organization. Applications of OR can be found in business, health care, financial engineering, military, supply-chain management, manufacturing, public policy and more.

The March 16 event has grown from just 37 students in its first year – a remarkable sight for Professor Chris Beck (MIE), whose research group, the Toronto Intelligent Decision Engineering Laboratory (TIDEL), initiated TORCH in 2011. “TORCH has introduced and inspired an interest in OR among high school students in the GTA,” said Professor Beck.

The day included an introductory lecture by Professor Dionne Aleman (MIE), presentations by MIE graduate students, a discussion of the solutions and an awards ceremony. During the day, representatives from Hi-Skule, U of T Aeronautics Team (UTAT) and U of T Space Design contest spoke to students about the exciting programs available at U of T Engineering. A team from Don Mills Collegiate Institute shared a $300 top prize, and were invited to attend a week of DEEP Summer Academy.

TORCH was made possible through the organization of six executive team members including, MIE PhD Candidates Maliheh Aramon Bajestani, Tony T. Tran, and Janet Sung, MIE MASc students, Tze YanJane Ip and Peter Yun Zhang, and Sebastian Kosch (EngSci 1T3).

TORCH would like to thank their many volunteers and sponsors, including the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, the Rotman School of Management, Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, the Engineering Outreach Office at University of Toronto, Engineering Alumni Association, and Skule™ Lunch and Learn Series attendees.

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