Summary: We review 30 years of developments and applications of the variable projection method for solving separable nonlinear least-squares problems. These are problems for which the model function is a linear combination of nonlinear functions. Taking advantage of this special structure, the method of variable projections eliminates the linear variables obtaining a somewhat more complicated function that involves only the nonlinear parameters. This procedure not only reduces the dimension of the parameter space but also results in a better-conditioned problem. The same optimization method applied to the original and reduced problems will always converge faster for the latter.
We present first a historical account of the basic theoretical work and its various computer implementations, and then report on a variety of applications from electrical engineering, medical and biological imaging, chemistry, robotics, vision, and environmental sciences. An extensive bibliography is included. The method is particularly well suited for solving real and complex exponential model fitting problems, which are pervasive in their applications and are notoriously hard to solve.