abstract: We will discuss analysis techniques and results in two different areas: localized pattern formation, and mean first passage time optimization problems. While very different in nature, these two classes of problems exhibit surprising connections that we will highlight. In particular, we discuss how a dynamics problem in pattern formation theory is closely related to that of optimizing the path of a mobile trap in the narrow capture problem. This surprising correspondence allows results of the easier dynamics problem to shed light on the much more difficult optimization problem. Joint works with Theodore Kolokolnikov, Alan Lindsay, Michael Ward, and Shuangquan Xie.