Genius Scientist: Leonid Kantorovich

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Leonid Kantorovich, Soviet/Russian mathematician and economist. He is famous for the techniques and theory he developed on the efficient allocation of resources. This work earned him the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1975.

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As is well known, the Nobel Prizes have been awarded for services to humanity since 1901 under the will of Alfred Nobel.
to reward those who have made a difference in the world. However, the Nobel Prize in Economics was not included in Alfred Nobel’s original will.

In 1968, the year of the bank’s 300th anniversary, the Swedish central bank decided to award an economics prize in memory of Alfred Nobel’s will of 1895. The Nobel Prize in economics was awarded in 1975 and was shared by Leonid Vitaliyevich Kantorovich and Tjalling C. Koopmans.

Who is Leonid the Kantorovich?

Leonid Kantorovich (Leonid Kantorovich) (1912-1986). Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, he entered Leningrad University in 1926 with an interest in political economy and modern history as well as mathematics. In 1934 he became a professor at Leningrad University, a position he held until 1960. From 1961-71 Kantorovich headed the mathematics and economics department of the Siberian branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. He later served as head of the research laboratory in Moscow.

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In 1941 and 1942 he took an active part in the Defense of Leningrad. During the siege, the people of Leningrad were left with only one way to breathe. This road over the frozen lake was called the ‘Road of Life’. But what is the carrying capacity of this frozen lake? Can heavy vehicles, for example, use this road? Kantorovic made various calculations with the mathematical model he developed. As a result, he ensured that the ‘Road of Life’ could deliver aid to the besieged people of Leningrad. The transportation and transport models he developed during this period are still taught in the field of transportation engineering today. For this work, he would be awarded the Order of the Patriotic War and the Medal for the Defense of Leningrad.

Kantorovich as a production engineer and economist

At the end of the war, we see Kantorovich in the production engineer’s chair. This time he will adapt the mathematical models in his mind to the production in the factory. Thus, he comes up with a model that will increase efficiency and receives many awards for this.

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Kantorovich made other contributions to the Soviet economy. Until his time, economics in the Soviet Union was mostly seen as a social science. Kantorovich, on the other hand, treated economic problems as a problem of optimization and therefore as a mathematical puzzle. Thus, economics in the Soviet Union developed in close relationship with mathematics. The fact that some of his proposals were not taken into account by the Soviet administration was an important shortcoming.

Leonid Kantorovich did his most important scientific work in the field of normative economic theory, the theory of the optimal allocation of resources. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics together with Tjalling C. Koopmans. Like fellow Laureate Koopmans, Kantorovich investigated how available productive resources could be used to the greatest advantage in the production of goods and services.

Pioneer of Linear Programming

Linear programming is a mathematical modeling method designed to optimize the use of limited resources. It has applications in the military, agriculture, industry, economics, transportation, health systems, and even in behavioral and social sciences. The linear programming method was invented and developed by George Dantzig in 1947 based on his work in the US Air Force.

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But even before that, in 1939, Leonid Vitalyevich Kantorovich, who was involved in the reorganization of the timber industry in the US, developed a limited class of linear programming and methods for solving them as part of his task. For this reason, he is now considered one of the founders of linear programming.

Although his discoveries were not highly valued at the time, the discovery of linear programming had a major impact on both theory and practice in economics. Linear programming has been used to allocate resources, plan production, regulate workers’ working hours, plan investment portfolios and formulate marketing strategies.

Ali Esen

Istanbul University, Department of Mathematics. Interested in science and technology.

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