From Left: Awards Committee Chair Richard M. Murray; assistant professor, School of Aerospace Engineering Yongxin Chen, and AACC President Dawn Tilbury.
Yongxin Chen, assistant professor in the School of Aerospace Engineering, has been awarded the Donald P. Eckman Award from the American Automatic Control Council (AACC) for his work in stochastic control. The award recognizes outstanding young engineers - under 35 years old - in the field of automatic control. Chen’s award reads, “for pioneering contributions in stochastic uncertainty control.”
Chen received the award in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 9, 2022, at the American Control Conference (ACC). “It’s a great honor to receive this award. I am humbled to get it. I always worked on research topics that are not the trend. The award encourages me to keep doing that and pursue original research directions.”
Stochastic control falls under the control theory umbrella, and his research focuses on new methodologies in stochastic control. “In control, a basic task is making decisions. In stochastic control, we are studying decision-making problems under the influence of a lot of uncertainties.” Chen’s research in stochastic uncertainty control builds a bridge between stochastic control and a mathematical tool known as optimal transport. “There was no clear connection between control and this tool in the past. Now, there’s a beautiful connection between the two, and we can leverage the optimal transport to study stochastic control. Based on this connection, we managed to provide a new methodology to make stochastic control more useful in practice. A specific instance of it, known as covariance control, has been used in multiple application domains such as robotics.”
The awardee believes this research could impact robotics, especially those under the influence of noise and disturbance. “We need to deal with human and robot interactions. There are many uncertainties, and we need advanced tools to handle them because there is no way to avoid disturbances.” Anything that involves human interaction has a lot of uncertainties.
Chen joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2018 from Iowa State University. “Georgia Tech is a great place for engineering, and everybody wants to come here. So, I was very happy to join the faculty at Georgia Tech.”
The awardee was born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi, China, and earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota, where he met the biggest influence on his research, Tryphon Georgiou, his advisor. Georgiou is now at the University of California, Irvine, and Chen continues to collaborate with him on control problems for minuscule thermodynamical systems.
Chen also collaborates on research with many others around the world.
“As a researcher, doing good work is the most important thing. It is also challenging. If you try to pursue a very specific, unique research direction, you may not see any result for a long time or what we call the ‘reward’, but eventually, if you are persistent and push hard enough, you’ll see the good side of the research. Just keep trying. Don’t give up too early,” the research pioneer advises aspiring and other young engineers.