Bernard Koopman

– August 18, 1981

Brief Biography

Bernard Osgood Koopman was a founding member and sixth president of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA). Born in Paris in 1900, Koopman spent his childhood in France and Italy. His parents divorced when he was twelve. Koopman’s mother brought her children to her native Massachusetts at the start of the First World War, shortly after his father's death. Koopman attended Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude. He received a PhD in mathematics from Columbia University in 1926, remaining with the university’s faculty for the entirety of his professional career.

Initially, Koopman focused on dynamics and mathematical physics, completing his dissertation in dynamics under George Birkhoff. In 1931 and 1932, he and John von Neumann introduced a description of classical mechanics in terms of Hilbert space. Later, after working with European academics, he developed an interest in probability theory and statistics. With Parisian mathematician George Darmois and Australian E. J. G. Pitman, Koopman devised a theorem that stated that the only families of probability distributions that admit a sufficient statistic are exponential families. Koopman was appointed to the prestigious Adrian Professorship at Columbia in 1955, and served as mathematics department chair from 1956 to1961.

By the early 1940s, Koopman had begun work on a National Defense Research Committee-sponsored project at Columbia University. It was in this capacity when he first met Philip M. Morse. The two were introduced via a mutual connection in George E. Kimball. Morse at the time was the director of the U.S. Navy’s Operations Research Group (ORG) in Washington. He was having difficulties recruiting established military research scientists away from such projects at MIT’s Radar Labs or the Army's Manhattan Project and instead brought in new talent. Morse won Koopman over with a letter telling him that he should “quit theorizing at a distance and come down to Washington to work on real problems.” With the ORG, Koopman made seminal progress on the development of search and screening theory. His then-classified work was publically brought together in his 1980 book, Search and Screening.

In 1952, Koopman was a featured speaker at ORSA's initial meeting and published an article in the first OR journal, The Journal of the Operations Research Society of America (today’s Operations Research). During his career, Koopman was always open to the discussion and exploration of new mathematical methods to OR. He served as ORSA president in 1957.

After the Second World War, Koopman had a continued association with the United States intelligence and defense communities. He spent the 1956-1957 and 1964-1965 academic years at the Institute for Defense Analysis and consulted with the Center for Naval Analysis. Koopman took a leave from Columbia in 1959-1960 to serve as the operations research liaison between the United States Department of Defense, the United Kingdom’s military and intelligence establishment, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, playing a major role in increasing communications between the OR communities of all entities.

Koopman’s  was presented the Wanner Award of the Military Operations Research Society in 1979 for his special interest and dedication to military OR. He was award the George E. Kimball Medal in 1980 for service to the profession. The Koopman award was established by the Military Application Society of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences to recognize outstanding publications in military OR.

Other Biographies

Wikipedia Entry for Bernard Koopman

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: Bernard O. Koopman. Accessed April 12, 2015. (link)

INFORMS Community and Prizes. Koopman Prize: Who Was Bernard Koopman?. Accessed April 12, 2015. (link)


Harvard University, BS 1922

Columbia University, PhD 1926 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas


Morse P. M. (1982) In Memoriam: Bernard Osgood Koopman, 1900-1981. Operations Research, 30(3): viii+417-427. (link)

Awards and Honors

Vance R. Wanner Memorial Award 1979

George E. Kimball Medal 1980

Professional Service

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1957

Selected Publications

Koopman B. O. & von Neumann J. (1932) Dynamical systems of continuous spectra. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 18(3), 255.

Koopman B. O. (1936) On distributions admitting a sufficient statistic. Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, 39(3): 399-409.

Koopman B. O. (1940) The bases of probability. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 46(10): 763-774.

Koopman B. O. (1946) Operations Evaluation Group Report No. 56: Search and Screening. Operations Evaluation Group: Washington: DC. (link)  

Koopman B. O. (1952) New Mathematical Methods in Operations Research. Journal of the Operations Research Society of America, 1(1): 3-9.

Koopman B. O. (1956) Theory of Search: I. Kinematic Bases. Operations Research, 4(3): 324-346.

Koopman B. O. (1956) Theory of Search: II. Target Detection. Operations Research, 4(4): 503-531.

Koopman B. O. (1956) Theory of Search: II. Target Detection. Operations Research, 5(5): 613-626.

Koopman B. O. (1963) Analytical treatment of a war game. in Proceedings of the Third International Conference on OR, Oslo, 727-735. English University Press: London.

Koopman B. O. (1980) Search and Screening: General Principles with Historical Applications. Pergamon Press: New York.