Nicos Christofides

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Nicos Christofides, Emeritus Professor of Quantitative Finance at Imperial College London, passed away in 2019   

Nicos was part of the team that set up one of the world’s largest and most highly respected finance research centres, the Centre for Quantitative Finance, which he directed for 17 years before retiring in 2009.

During his time at the Centre, which sat within Imperial’s Management School before it later became the Business School, his focus was on supervising PhD students in tackling real-world problems in financial mathematics and risk management, helping to oversee more than 200 doctoral students now working in financial centres across the globe.   

Born in Cyprus in 1942, Nicos left his native country to study for his A Levels in Folkestone, Kent and in 1960, began his lifelong association with Imperial College London, winning a scholarship to study Electrical Engineering.   

After graduating with first class honours in 1966, he went on to complete a PhD entitled, “The Origins of Load Losses in Induction Motors with Cast Aluminium Rotors” under a joint supervision that involved the renowned scientist and Nobel Prize winner Dennis Gabor. Nicos was awarded the Ferranti medal for this work and had particularly fond memories of the ceremony as it was the first official event that he attended with his girlfriend and future wife, Ann. 

The Christofides Algorithm 

In 1968, he took on a lectureship in the Management Engineering Section of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial. Here, he started his work in combinatorial optimisation and graph theory. Nicos, together with Department Head Samuel Eilon, were pioneers in vehicle routing algorithms.  

Nicos is perhaps best known for the Travelling Salesman Problem. His sons still recall the months, if not years, during which the family dining room table was covered with maps, coloured pens and tracing paper as Nicos and his wife spent their evenings digitising the UK road system. The Christofides Algorithm remains the best worst-case scenario, and his industrial quality vehicle routing software is still used today. 

In 1975, Nicos published his seminal and pioneering book Graph Theory: An Algorithmic Approach and shortly afterwards took a sabbatical in North America where he visited several universities and developed research projects. During the 1970s and 80s, Nicos helped create a research centre in Italy (SOGESTA, in Urbino), and in 1982 he became a Professor of Operational Research.   

The 80s also saw Nicos begin his work on the analysis of images and as a result of his work on image compression, Nicos later consulted, and had contracts, with NASA and IBM. He had a unique ability of explaining elaborate and mathematically complex problems to the layman in a way that made extremely hard solutions sound easy. 

Renaissance man

During his academic career he published over 150 papers in quality journals and four books on optimisation and quantitative finance. 

In addition to his work, Nicos was a Renaissance man with encyclopaedic general knowledge and a prolific reader and writer. He enjoyed both the art and science of photography and collected fountain pens and leather-bound journals where he wrote exquisite and detailed academic notes. He also had an extensive collection of marbles and wooden tops from his childhood. 

In 2018, Nicos was devastated by the illness and death of his wife, Ann, but resolved to keep working until his death in 2019. Nicos is survived by his two sons, Alexander and Simon, and three grandchildren, Hugo, Ivan and Lola.

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