Martin L. Ernst

March 28, 1920 – December 17, 2001

Brief Biography

Ernst Presidential Gallery Portrait

Martin L. Ernst was a founding member of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) and the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS). Ernst was elected ORSA’s ninth President, having previously served as Secretary of the Society.

Ernst received his bachelor’s degree and doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After completing his PhD in 1941, he was employed at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory where he researched a variety of topics pertaining to complex physical and operational systems. After the United States’ entry into the Second World War, Ernst shifted his focus to the wartime issues of airborne radio analysis and radar problems, working with Philip M. Morse and his group. He later cooperated closely with the Operations Analysis Division of the U.S. Army’s Air Corps (which became the United States Air Force) and Jacinto Steinhardt’s Operations Evaluation Group, which worked for the U.S. Navy. In the following years, Ernst applied his war-time knowledge to the development of a patented automatic traffic control computer. This device was one of the earliest applications of computer science to air traffic control and was used in the civilian and military sectors.

A leading practitioner of operation research, Ernst’s contributions spanned many decades, ranging from theoretical research to serious problem solving. Beyond his military work, he is also recognized for numerous government-sponsored studies. He researched the effective use of information technology and systems with the National Science Foundation and examined trends in the application of telecommunications at the Office of Telecommunications Policy.  Later in his career, Ernst served as the Vice President for Management Sciences at Arthur D. Little, frequently collaborating with John F. Magee. Over the course of his industrial career, Ernst enhanced such groundbreaking areas as logistics management, information and control systems, and electronic funds transfer.  

Ernst contributed greatly to the international operations research community. As a founding IFORS member, he attended the Federation’s first meeting in 1957 at Oxford. Nine years later, he served as Program Committee Chairman of the 1966 IFORS Conference held in Boston.  Ernst cared about the growth and future of operations research and went on to publish meaningful articles on OR philosophy. On stepping down as ORSA President in 1961, he wrote a subject of discussion at the time, namely  the  value and difficulty of using Operations Research to tackle strategic problems. Additionally, Ernst encouraged the debate surrounding Russell L. Ackoff’s claims about the social responsibility of operations research

For his dedicated service the OR community and discipline, Ernst was awarded the George E. Kimball Medal in 1977. He passed away in 2001 but was posthumously elected in the inaugural class of Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellows (INFORMS).

Other Biographies

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: Martin L. Ernst. Accessed March 25, 2015. (link)


Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SB

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PhD 1941


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas


(2002) In memorium Martin L. Ernst. OR/MS Today, 20(1): 60. 

Awards and Honors

George E. Kimball Medal 1977

Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences Fellow 2002

Professional Service

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1960

Selected Publications

Ernst M. L. & Shaffer B. (1954) A survey of circulation characteristics of some general library books. Unpublished Study. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Cambridge, MA.

Ernst M. L. (1958)  U.S. Patent No. 2,835,054: Dynamic automatic traffic analyzer controller. United States Patent and Trademark Office: Washington, D.C.

Ernst M. L. (1961) Operations Research and the Large Strategic Problems. Operations Research, 9(4): 437-445.

Ernst M. L. & Magee J. F. (1961) The Challenge of the Future. Ackoff R. L., ed. in Progress of Operations Research. Wiley & Sons: New York.

Ernst M. L. & Wolfe H. B. (1967) Simulation Models and Urban Planning. Morse P. M., ed. in Operations Research for Public Systems. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Ernst M. L. (1991) The Personal Computer: Growth Patterns, Limits, and New Frontiers. Program on Information Resources Policy, Center for Information Policy Research. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA.

Branscomb A. W., Ernst M. L., & Oettinger A. G. (1993) Mastering the Changing Information World. Praeger: Santa Barbara, CA.