Posted on: February 5, 2016 | David C. Bowman - NASA

Math saves lives.

Nobody knows that better than Van Gurley, a former Navy captain who today works for a company that uses sophisticated statistical modeling to solve puzzles where the stakes are life and death.

The company, Reston, Virginia-based Metron Scientific Solutions, created a math framework for a program called SAROPS, or Search And Rescue Optimal Planning System. The Coast Guard uses it to narrow the search area when trying to rescue people lost at sea.

It’s credited with helping save hundreds of lives since 2007.

“These equations are very simple, but rigorous and powerful,” Gurley said, who spoke at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, as part of the center’s Colloquium Lectures series. “The mathematical framework is simple,” he said. “The implementation is incredibly difficult.”

His talk, titled “Bayesian Search for Air France 447: The Math that Found a Needle in a Haystack,” explained how the combination of centuries-old theory and modern computational methods have yielded stunning results.

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