Margaret H. Wright

February 18, 1944

Brief Biography

The daughter of two medical doctors, Margaret H. Wright was born in San Francisco and grew up in a small town in the Central Valley of California and Tucson, Arizona. Though both of her parents were graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, Wright attended rival Stanford University. She was not sure what to major in but was told that mathematics and computer science allowed for more job opportunities. Wright received three degrees from the university. Between her getting masters in computer science and a PhD, she accepted a scientific programming job at GTE Sylvania in the Bay Area. At Sylvania, she learned FORTRAN and was forced to deal with the realities of being a woman in a male dominated profession and work place.

Wright returned to graduate school in 1971 and joined the numerical analysis group at Stanford, developing an interest in optimization. Her 1976 dissertation, supervised by Gene Golub and Walter Murray, dealt with nonlinearly constrained optimization. In 1974, Murray invited Wright to work at the National Physical Laboratory of the United Kingdom. During her seven months at NPL, she had the opportunity to work with preeminent numerical analysis researchers including Jim Wilkinson.

When Wright finished her PhD, there was a group in George Dantzig’s Operations Research Department that dealt with systems optimization. Dantzig hired Wright as a Research Associate at the group’s lab, a position she held from 1976 to 1988. During this period, she taught classes in computer science and operations research. In the mid-1980s, Wright began to consider leaving Stanford due to the lack of significant faculty-student interaction and her not having a full time faculty position. She made the switch from academia in 1988 when she joined Bell Laboratories’ Computer Science Center.

Bell Labs offered a stellar research environment that was not tied down to the same teaching and funding restrictions that bog down university research. Wright was named a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff and, in 1998, became a Bell Labs Fellow. She led the Scientific Computer Research Department in the late 1990s. The culture of the labs was gradually changing, however, as the company leadership focused more on profit-driven research. Wright therefore left Bell Labs in 2001 to become the chair of the Computer Science Department of New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

Wright has received numerous honors for her work in optimization and leadership in the applied mathematics community. She was elected into the National Academy of Engineering in 1997 and named an inaugural Fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (which she served as President of from 1995 to 1996), and Fellow of the American Mathematical Society. 

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Margaret H. Wright 

Agnes Scott College. Biographies of Women Mathematicians: Margaret Wright. Accessed May 15, 2015. (link)

Purdue University Department of Mathematics. People: Margaret H. Wright. Accessed May 15, 2015. (link

Roberts, S (2015) Simons Foundation Science Lives: Margaret Wright.  Accessed October 4, 2018 (link)


Stanford University, BS

Stanford University, MS

Stanford University, PhD 1976 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Margaret Wright (2019) Interview by Irv Lustig, August 12, 2019, New York, NY.

NOTE:  The video chapter transcripts below are searchable, with search results displayed as marks on the time bar above the search box.  Click a mark to jump to the search word or phrase in the video and transcript, or click on any word in the transcript to jump to that point in the video.

The "Gang of Four" that is introduced by Irv Lustig in the interview refers to the research team of Philip Gill, Walter Murray, Michael Saunders, and Margaret Wright.   The SUMT algorithm mentioned by Irv Lustig refers to the Sequential Unconstrained Minimization Technique described in a paper that appeared in Operations Research in 1967 by Anthony Fiacco and Garth McCormick.

Jump to Chapters

Chapter 1: Early Life
Chapter 2: College at Stanford
Chapter 3: First Job
Chapter 4: Back at Stanford for a PhD
Chapter 5: The Beginning of Stanford’s Systems Optimization Lab
Chapter 6: Computing in PhD Research
Chapter 7: Collaborations at SOL
Chapter 8: Connecting Karmarkar’s Algorithm and Barrier Methods
Chapter 9: Leaving Stanford for Bell Labs
Chapter 10: Wireless System Engineering at Bell Labs
Chapter 11: Leaving Bell Labs
Chapter 12: Transition to Courant
Chapter 13: Service to the Profession as a Woman
Chapter 14: Women in STEM
Chapter 15: Operations Research and Related Disciplines
Chapter 16: Retrospective

Simons Foundation. Science Lives: Margaret Wright by Michael Overton.  Published February 12, 2014. Accessed May 15, 2015. (link

Memoirs and Autobiographies


Margaret H. Wright Curriculum Vitae (to be linked)

Awards and Honors

National Academy of Engineering 1997

Association for Women in Mathematics Emmy Noether Lecture 2000

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics Fellow 2009

American Mathematical Society Fellow 2012

Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics John von Neumann Prize 2019

Professional Service

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, President 1995-1996

Selected Publications

Gill P. E., Murray W., & Wright, M. H. (1981) Practical Optimization. Academic Press: New York

Gill P. E., Murray W., Saunders M. A., & Wright M. H. (1984) Procedures for optimization problems with a mixture of bounds and general linear constraints. ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software, 10(3): 282-298.

Gill P. E., Gorelick S. M., Murray W., Saunders M. A., Voss C. I., & Wright M. H. (1984) Aquifer reclamation design: the use of contaminant transport simulation combined with nonlinear programing. Water Resources Research, 20(4): 415-427.

Gill P. E., Murray W., Saunders M. A., Tomlin J. A., & Wright M. H. (1986) On projected Newton barrier methods for linear programming and an equivalence to Karmarkar’s projective method. Mathematical Programming, 36(2): 183-209.

Gill P. E., Murray W., & Wright, M. H. (1991) Numerical Linear Algebra and Optimization, Volume 1. Addison-Wesley: New York.

Wright M. H. (1992) Interior methods for constrained optimization. Acta Numerica, 1: 341-407.

Fortune S. J., Gay D. M., Kernighan B. W., Landron O., Valenzuela R. A., & Wright M. H. (1995) WISE design of indoor wireless systems: practical computation and optimization. Computing in Science and Engineering, 2(1): 58-68.

Wright M. H. (1996) Direct search methods: Once scorned, now respectable. Giffiths D. F. & Watson G. A., eds. in Numerical Analysis 1995, 191-208. Pitman Research Notes in Mathematics Series. Addison Wesley Longman: Harlow, UK. 

Wright M. H. (2012) Nelder, Mead and the Other Simplex Method. In Grötschel, M. ed. Documenta MathematicaExtra Volume "Optimization Stories" 271 - 276. (link)

Lagarias J. C., Reeds J. A., Wright M. H., & Wright P. E. (1998) Convergence properties of the Nelder--Mead simplex method in low dimensions. SIAM Journal on Optimization, 9(1): 112-147.

Forsgren A., Gill P. E., & Wright M. H. (2002) Interior methods for nonlinear optimization. SIAM Review, 44(4): 525-597.

Additional Resources

New York University Computer Science. Margaret H. Wright. Accessed May 15, 2015. (link

Wright, M. H. (2006) "How Hard Can It Be?"  Lecture at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications Public Lecture Series, University of Minnesota, November 2, 2006. (link