In certain optimization problems the unknown optimal solution might not be a number or a vector, but rather a continuous quantity, for example a function or the shape of a body. Such a problem is an **infinite-dimensional optimization** problem, because, a continuous quantity cannot be determined by a finite number of certain degrees of freedom.

- Find the shortest path between two points in a plane. The variables in this problem are the curves connecting the two points. The optimal solution is of course the line segment joining the points, if the metric defined on the plane is the Euclidean metric.
- Given two cities in a country with many hills and valleys, find the shortest road going from one city to the other. This problem is a generalization of the above, and the solution is not as obvious.
- Given two circles which will serve as top and bottom for a cup of given height, find the shape of the side wall of the cup so that the side wall has minimal area. The intuition would suggest that the cup must have conical or cylindrical shape, which is false. The actual minimum surface is the catenoid.
- Find the shape of a bridge capable of sustaining given amount of traffic using the smallest amount of material.
- Find the shape of an airplane which bounces away most of the radio waves from an enemy radar.

Infinite-dimensional optimization problems can be more challenging than finite-dimensional ones. Typically one needs to employ methods from partial differential equations to solve such problems.

Several disciplines which study infinite-dimensional optimization problems are calculus of variations, optimal control and shape optimization.

**Numerical analysis** is the study of algorithms that use numerical approximation for the problems of mathematical analysis. Numerical analysis naturally finds application in all fields of engineering and the physical sciences, but in the 21st century also the life sciences, social sciences, medicine, business and even the arts have adopted elements of scientific computations. The growth in computing power has revolutionized the use of realistic mathematical models in science and engineering, and subtle numerical analysis is required to implement these detailed models of the world. For example, ordinary differential equations appear in celestial mechanics ; numerical linear algebra is important for data analysis; stochastic differential equations and Markov chains are essential in simulating living cells for medicine and biology.

The **travelling salesman problem ** asks the following question: "Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city and returns to the origin city?" It is an NP-hard problem in combinatorial optimization, important in theoretical computer science and operations research.

A **vector space** is a collection of objects called **vectors**, which may be added together and multiplied ("scaled") by numbers, called *scalars*. Scalars are often taken to be real numbers, but there are also vector spaces with scalar multiplication by complex numbers, rational numbers, or generally any field. The operations of vector addition and scalar multiplication must satisfy certain requirements, called *axioms*, listed below, in § Definition. For specifying that the scalars are real or complex numbers, the terms **real vector space** and **complex vector space** are often used.

In geometry, the **convex hull** or **convex envelope** or **convex closure** of a shape is the smallest convex set that contains it. The convex hull may be defined either as the intersection of all convex sets containing a given subset of a Euclidean space, or equivalently as the set of all convex combinations of points in the subset. For a bounded subset of the plane, the convex hull may be visualized as the shape enclosed by a rubber band stretched around the subset.

**Linear programming** is a method to achieve the best outcome in a mathematical model whose requirements are represented by linear relationships. Linear programming is a special case of mathematical programming.

**Mathematical optimization** or **mathematical programming** is the selection of a best element from some set of available alternatives. Optimization problems of sorts arise in all quantitative disciplines from computer science and engineering to operations research and economics, and the development of solution methods has been of interest in mathematics for centuries.

In differential geometry, a **geodesic** is a curve representing in some sense the shortest path between two points in a surface, or more generally in a Riemannian manifold. It is a generalization of the notion of a "straight line" to a more general setting.

An **inverse problem** in science is the process of calculating from a set of observations the causal factors that produced them: for example, calculating an image in X-ray computed tomography, source reconstruction in acoustics, or calculating the density of the Earth from measurements of its gravity field. It is called an inverse problem because it starts with the effects and then calculates the causes. It is the inverse of a forward problem, which starts with the causes and then calculates the effects.

**Optimal control theory** is a branch of mathematical optimization that deals with finding a control for a dynamical system over a period of time such that an objective function is optimized. It has numerous applications in both science and engineering. For example, the dynamical system might be a spacecraft with controls corresponding to rocket thrusters, and the objective might be to reach the moon with minimum fuel expenditure. Or the dynamical system could be a nation's economy, with the objective to minimize unemployment; the controls in this case could be fiscal and monetary policy.

In operations research, applied mathematics and theoretical computer science, **combinatorial optimization** is a topic that consists of finding an optimal object from a finite set of objects. In many such problems, exhaustive search is not tractable. It operates on the domain of those optimization problems in which the set of feasible solutions is discrete or can be reduced to discrete, and in which the goal is to find the best solution. Some common problems involving combinatorial optimization are the travelling salesman problem ("TSP"), the minimum spanning tree problem ("MST"), and the knapsack problem.

**Shape optimization** is part of the field of optimal control theory. The typical problem is to find the shape which is optimal in that it minimizes a certain cost functional while satisfying given constraints. In many cases, the functional being solved depends on the solution of a given partial differential equation defined on the variable domain.

In mathematics, a **space** is a set with some added structure.

**Nearest neighbor search** (**NNS**), as a form of proximity search, is the optimization problem of finding the point in a given set that is closest to a given point. Closeness is typically expressed in terms of a dissimilarity function: the less similar the objects, the larger the function values. Formally, the nearest-neighbor (NN) search problem is defined as follows: given a set *S* of points in a space *M* and a query point *q* ∈ *M*, find the closest point in *S* to *q*. Donald Knuth in vol. 3 of *The Art of Computer Programming* (1973) called it the **post-office problem**, referring to an application of assigning to a residence the nearest post office. A direct generalization of this problem is a *k*-NN search, where we need to find the *k* closest points.

In the field of calculus of variations in mathematics, the method of **Lagrange multipliers on Banach spaces** can be used to solve certain infinite-dimensional constrained optimization problems. The method is a generalization of the classical method of Lagrange multipliers as used to find extrema of a function of finitely many variables.

In optimization theory, **semi-infinite programming** (**SIP**) is an optimization problem with a finite number of variables and an infinite number of constraints, or an infinite number of variables and a finite number of constraints. In the former case the constraints are typically parameterized.

The **finite element method** (**FEM**) is the most widely used method for solving problems of engineering and mathematical models. Typical problem areas of interest include the traditional fields of structural analysis, heat transfer, fluid flow, mass transport, and electromagnetic potential. The FEM is a particular numerical method for solving partial differential equations in two or three space variables. To solve a problem, the FEM subdivides a large system into smaller, simpler parts that are called **finite elements**. This is achieved by a particular space discretisation in the space dimensions, which is implemented by the construction of a mesh of the object: the numerical domain for the solution, which has a finite number of points. The finite element method formulation of a boundary value problem finally results in a system of algebraic equations. The method approximates the unknown function over the domain. The simple equations that model these finite elements are then assembled into a larger system of equations that models the entire problem. The FEM then uses variational methods from the calculus of variations to approximate a solution by minimizing an associated error function.

**Multi-objective linear programming** is a subarea of mathematical optimization. A multiple objective linear program (MOLP) is a linear program with more than one objective function. An MOLP is a special case of a vector linear program. Multi-objective linear programming is also a subarea of Multi-objective optimization.

- David Luenberger (1997).
*Optimization by Vector Space Methods.*John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-18117-X. - Edward J. Anderson and Peter Nash,
*Linear Programming in Infinite-Dimensional Spaces*, Wiley, 1987. - M. A. Goberna and M. A. López,
*Linear Semi-Infinite Optimization*, Wiley, 1998. - Cassel, Kevin W.: Variational Methods with Applications in Science and Engineering, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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