Carry on.

The Return of the Poisson Distribution

The last time I saw the Poisson Distribution was in my Fluid Flow theory class at UBC. The Poisson distribution was my nemesis – a symbol of my defeat in the hands of the UBC Chemical Engineering program. When I left UBC, I left with glee knowing that I would never see the Poisson Distribution again.

Fast forward to 2006. I’m going through my Operations Management textbook, Chapter 6 – Service Line Flow Theory. Lo and behold I see the return of the most vile enemy: The Poisson Distribution, not under the pretense of fluid flow theory… but under the guise of Customer Service Systems and Line flow Theory.

“This guy is everywhere! ” I thought.

I did a little bit of research on wikipedia, and found out that the mathemetician who discovered this vile beast was none other than Siméon-Denis Poisson. His original intent of the Poission distribution was to mathematically model the Probability of Judgments in Criminal and Civil Matters.

Wikipedia says this about the Possion Distribution:

An everyday example is the graininess that appears as photographs are enlarged; the graininess is due to Poisson fluctuations in the number of reduced silver grains, not to the individual grains themselves. By correlating the graininess with the degree of enlargement, one can estimate the contribution of an individual grain (which is otherwise too small to be seen unaided). Albert Einstein used Poisson noise to show that matter was composed of discrete atoms and to estimate Avogadro’s number; he also used Poisson noise in treating blackbody radiation to demonstrate that electromagnetic radiation was composed of discrete photons. Many other molecular applications of Poisson noise have been developed, e.g., estimating the number density of receptor molecules in a cell membrane.

Yes indeed, this guy is everywhere, from photography to chemical engineering. From microbiology to business operations management. There’s no escaping Poission.

This time around though, Poission makes a lot more sense. It’s actually quite simple to apply in the business context. I guess in some small way, my time at UBC paid off… just a little bit! 😉

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