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Industrial Engineer Maps Flu Outbreaks

Georgia Tech associate professor Pinar Keskinocak, graduate student Faramroze Engineer and executive secretary of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the CDC Larry Pickering (left to right) display the new online tool they developed that allows parents and pediatricians to ensure that the missed vaccines and future vaccines are administered without violating guidelines regarding vaccines and doses. (Image credit: Georgia Tech/Gary Meek)

Editor's Note: ScienceLives is an occasional series that puts scientists under the microscope to find out what makes them tick. The series is a cooperation between the National Science Foundation and LiveScience.

Name: Pinar Keskinocak Age: 38 Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology, H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering Field of Study: Industrial Engineering/Operations Research

While you wouldn't expect an industrial engineer would know much about flu outbreaks, Pinar Keskinocak has used her training to help the state of Georgia understand how a flu pandemic could spread and how to respond if it does. For more on the work, including an animation showing how a flu outbreak spreads, see the full story at "Pandemic Flu Models Show How Illness Would Spread in Georgia." We asked her 10 questions:

What inspired you to choose this field of study? Math and other quantitative subjects were always my favorites in high school, but I also liked working with people and wanted to have a positive impact on society. Industrial Engineering/Operations Research (IE/OR) is the perfect combination of applying quantitative methods in almost any real-world situation ranging from manufacturing, logistics, and finance to health care and humanitarian applications.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Stop thinking about your potential and start using it.

What was your first scientific experiment as a child? I put a piece of paper at the bottom of a cup, submerged the cup in a bucket of water and observed that the paper did not get wet.

What is your favorite thing about being a scientist or researcher? Always working on problems that no one has solved before, constantly learning and discovering new things, and sharing that knowledge with others.

What is the most important characteristic a scientist must demonstrate in order to be an effective scientist? Be curious, ask interesting questions, work hard, and be persistent when things don't go the way you expect.

What are the societal benefits of your research? My research in supply chain management indirectly benefits society by improving the effectiveness and efficiency of businesses, and in turn, enabling end consumers to obtain better quality products or services faster and cheaper. My research in healthcare and humanitarian logistics directly benefits society by improving the delivery of healthcare and humanitarian response during disasters.

Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher? I cannot name a single person, but I benefited from the positive influence of my teachers, advisor, colleagues, students, as well as from the experiences of other researchers (e.g., famous physicist Richard Feynman) whom I have not met, but who have written books and articles about their research experiences.

What about your field or being a scientist do you think would surprise people the most?

When people hear the term industrial engineering they often think about factories and manufacturing. They may find it surprising that many of the methods and techniques we develop as IE/OR researchers are being applied in fields outside of manufacturing, e.g., in banks, hospitals, airlines, hotels, transportation and telecommunication networks, etc. IE/OR is one of the most versatile fields I can think of in terms of having a wide range of application areas.

If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be? My computer, since it contains data as well as my most recent research results.

What music do you play most often in your lab or car? Classical music.