Profile former CWI director and CWI Fellow Jan Karel Lenstra (2008)

Jan Karel Lenstra is from a family of mathematicians. His father and two of his brothers are mathematicians. But he thinks his field of research, combinatorial optimization, should be assigned to computer science rather then mathematics. Jan Karel started his career at CWI as a researcher in the field of sequencing and scheduling, routing, complexity, approximation and local search methods. After a few years as a professor in Atlanta (US), he returned to the CWI to become its general director.

Jan Karel Lenstra is from a family of mathematicians. His father and two of his brothers are mathematicians. But he thinks his field of research, combinatorial optimization, should be assigned to computer science rather then mathematics. Jan Karel started his career at CWI as a researcher in the field of sequencing and scheduling, routing, complexity, approximation and local search methods. After a few years as a professor in Atlanta (US), he returned to the CWI to become its general director.

Jan Karel Lenstra studied econometrics at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. He took his PhD in mathematics and natural sciences in 1976 at the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven. With his doctoral research Sequensing by Enumerative Methods he introduced decision theory to Dutch research in mathematics and computer science. He stayed a pioneer in the field of combinatorial optimization for a long time.

Jan Karel LenstraLenstra published more then eighty articles. He is coauthor of more then fifteen books of which his standard book The Traveling Salesman Problem (1985), is one of the best known. The problems of scheduling and routing described in this book are comparable with the problems of a traveling salesman: what is my shortest route home, visiting all the cities in my area and taking into account unknown factors like new customers and blocked roads. The book threw a new light on the question how to approach an optimal situation.

He received several awards and prizes, for example from the de European Association of Operational Research Societies (EURO gouden medaille) and another from the Institute for Operational Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

Lenstra supervised more then thirty PhD students.

 

Managing ambition

While he was still a researcher at CWI, he was appointed full professor of Combinatorial Optimization at the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven. Later he became dean of its department Mathematics and Computer Science.

In 2002 he moved to Atlanta (US) to teach at the Institute of Technology of the Georgia University. He and his family liked it there. "We really wanted to stay there. The country is clear and transparent and in southern Atlanta the people are friendly. But I noticed that I'd rather led the university then teach". When it became possible to become general director of the CWI, this was a good reason to return to the Netherlands.

Jan Karel Lenstra realizes that somebody "from the trade" can make an excellent contribution to the continuity in research and its applications in the filed of mathematics and computer science as a manager, also because of his inside knowledge. He led the CWI towards a strategy of strengthening its position at the front of international research.

 

Other positions

In addition to his work at the CWI Lenstra is - amongst others- chair of the advisory committee for sectorplan Wiskunde of the Dutch Organization for Scientific research (KNAW), chair of the European Research Centres on Mathematics (ERCOM), adjunct chair of European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM), comittee member of the Commissie Rekenonderwijs Basisscholen and member of the advisory board ICT Regie. He has been chair of the Mathematical Programming Society and of the Koninklijk Wiskundig Genootschap.

(Profile information: CWI, 2008.)