For her research developing optimization algorithms, modeling and statistical analysis to address a wide range of environmental problems, Christine Shoemaker, the Joseph P. Ripley Professor of Engineering Emerita at Cornell University, has received the 2023 Harold Hotelling Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).
The medal was announced during the INFORMS Annual Meeting, Oct. 15-18 in Phoenix, and recognizes the lifetime achievements of an INFORMS scholar who has made sustained and exceptional contributions to the major areas spanned by energy, natural resources and the environment.
The award recognizing her career is Shoemaker’s second this year after she received the International Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Activity Group on Geosciences Career Prize in June 2023 for her mathematically based computational algorithms and their applications to problems in Geoscience including groundwater remediation and carbon sequestration.
After receiving her Ph.D. supervised by the renowned applied mathematician Richard Bellman, Shoemaker joined the Cornell School of Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty in 1973 and built a research program around decision-making optimization algorithms with environmental applications utilizing high-performance computing. Her applications have addressed groundwater remediation, pesticide management, ecology, climate modeling, carbon sequestration and surface water pollutant transport in large watersheds and lakes, among other environmental concerns.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Shoemaker led a 10 year United Nations-sponsored initiative that organized conferences about groundwater contamination in developing countries to help prevent future pollution in those regions. In recent years she has continued to work internationally as a Distinguished Professor of Engineering at the National University of Singapore, developing new optimization algorithms and applying them for parameterizing computationally expensive partial differential equation models of lake hydrodynamics and water quality.
“My goal throughout my career was to use sophisticated mathematics to help solve or mitigate environmental problems. I am very pleased that over the years my research groups and I have developed general purpose optimization algorithms that are very effective on solving difficult problems like global optimization with objective functions that are expensive simulation models since these methods are effective for a range of environmental problems,” Shoemaker said.
As Shoemaker pioneered developing fields throughout her career, she was also a trailblazer on campus. She was the first woman faculty member at Cornell Engineering to be awarded tenure, and in 1985 she was the first woman appointed as an engineering department chair at Cornell. During that time she encouraged and inspired other women engineers, which earned her a Distinguished Educator Award from the Society of Women Engineers.
Shoemaker has been honored throughout her career by a number of other prestigious organizations. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2014, among the highest honors for an engineer. She is a Fellow in INFORMS for her work related to operations research; in SIAM for work related to applied mathematics; and in the American Geophysical Union. She is also a distinguished member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, among other accolades.
“I am very grateful for the freedom I was given to pursue research outside, as well as inside, the traditional areas of civil and environmental engineering, and for the existence of interdisciplinary Cornell programs that enabled me to conduct research with excellent Ph.D. students from a range of fields outside civil and environmental engineering,” said Shoemaker, who added that she has returned to her Ithaca residence and her emeritus faculty office at Cornell. “I am looking forward to being part of the exciting Cornell intellectual community while working part time on research.”