Two "matchmakers" whose work has found practical applications in pairing pupils with schools and organs with transplant patients, yesterday won the Nobel Prize for economics.
US economists Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley claimed the Skr8m (£748,000) award from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the "theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design".
Mr Shapley – one of the oldest winners of the prize, at 89 – is among the leading lights in a field of economics including John Nash, the schizophrenic genius who himself won the Nobel Prize in 1994 and was portrayed by Russell Crowe in the film A Beautiful Mind.
He first published his work on the topic 50 years ago in a groundbreaking article with fellow economist David Gale, who died in 2008. The pair used game theory – the science of strategic decision making – to study and compare various matching methods, working out how to make sure the matches were acceptable to all counterparts.
In the 1962 article, "College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage", Messrs Shapley and Gale presented a simple model where men and women – or students and colleges – expressed preferences for individuals in the other set to whom they might be matched.
The work was followed up by Mr Roth and helped to redesign existing institutions so that new doctors could be matched with hospitals, students with schools or patients with organ donors. The awarding committee called it "an outstanding example of economic engineering".
He described his work as studying "courtship", saying: "Matching… is about how you get all the things that you can't just choose but you also have to be chosen – so getting into university, getting married, getting jobs. You can't just have what you want; you also have to do some courtship, and there is courtship on both sides."
The prize, officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, is not one of the awards set out in Nobel's 1895 will.