Binyamin Oz: The poetry in mathematical modelling

08 May 2017

Dr Binyamin Oz
Dr Binyamin Oz

Binyamin Oz says mathematical modelling is like poetry. “You take some abstract idea or a message you want to deliver, and you do it with a minimal amount of words (in poetry) or mathematical symbols and expressions (in modelling). You always try to do it in the most elegant and concise way that still captures your abstract message.”

For Dr Oz, an Israeli who has just joined the Department of Statistics as a Post-doctoral Research Fellow to work alongside Associate Professor Ilze Ziedins, poetry exists in modelling strategic behaviour in queues, which can have important real-life applications in fields like healthcare and transport management. His bachelor studies in Israel were in economics and statistics, and he was fascinated by the mathematical modelling he employed in both disciplines. He gained his PhD in the Department of Statistics and the Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

One of his projects here explores the regulation of strategic joining to queues. “The basic problem with customers’ joining decisions is that too many decide to join, and from a social point of view, we would prefer to see fewer joiners,” explains Dr Oz. “This is why queues and also roads are usually overcrowded. The root cause of this phenomenon is that when deciding whether to join, strategic customers do not take into account the extra waiting they inflict on future arrivals. We study ways to make customers internalise those extra costs they usually ignore in order to elicit a socially optimal behaviour from their side.”

Another project looks at how different information structures affect the joining pattern of customers to queues: “If a queue is concealed and customers can’t see how long it is, we would expect a different joining behaviour than if the queue is observable.”    

Dr Oz has moved to New Zealand with his wife Liat, an archaeologist, and their three small children. But how does an Israeli end up on the other side of the world? It all came about through Dr Oz’s supervisor, Professor Moshe Haviv, who was a visitor in the Department of Statistics in 2015. Professor Haviv heard that there was a position available and suggested Dr Oz apply.

“After doing some research about the department and in particular about Ilze’s research interests,” says Dr Oz, “I realised that this is the best place for my post-doc. This is without mentioning the fact that New Zealand is one of the best places on Earth in so many aspects. You can assume it wasn’t so hard to talk my wife into moving here.”