College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

ECpE’s new Assistant Professor Chen receives Outstanding Paper Award

ECpE Assistant Professor Yongxin Chen (right) stands with Tryphon Georgiou and Michele Pavon, who worked on the project with Chen.
ECpE Assistant Professor Yongxin Chen (right) stands with Tryphon Georgiou and Michele Pavon, who work on the project with Chen.

Yongxin Chen, assistant professor with Iowa State University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE), received the George S. Axelby Outstanding Paper Award for papers published in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Transactions on Automatic Control journal. Chen wrote the paper, “Optimal Steering of a Linear Stochastic System to a Final Probability Distribution, Part I,” with University of California – Irvine’s Tryphon Georgiou and University of Padova’s Michele Pavon.

The Axelby paper award, funded by the IEEE Control Systems Society, is presented once annually for originality; potential impact on the theoretical foundations of control; importance and practical significance in applications; and clarity. The society calls the award one of its most prestigious.

According to Chen, their work “presents a new framework to study dynamical systems with uncertainty. It builds a connection between two completely different areas: Control theory and optimal transport. Optimal transport is a powerful mathematical tool in many areas like economics and image processing, but the connection to control theory has not been studied before. Our main contribution is pointing out that it is natural to use optimal transport theory to study stochastic dynamical systems.”

Chen started this project in 2014 as a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, where Georgiou was his Ph.D. advisor.

“It was a completely new research direction in systems and control, and it turned out to be a nice one,” Chen said. “We were very lucky to be the first one in this research direction. However, this is just the beginning. This work turns out to be very related to many areas and applications. I expect this to be an important part of my research for at least another five years.”

As he continues working in the future, his goal is to “apply optimal transport theory to different engineering applications. Some potential applications include control of thermodynamical systems, medical imaging, intelligent transportation systems and generative models in machine learning,” among other possibilities.

Chen has been at Iowa State since August 2017; he received his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota. He is interested in the applications of mathematics in engineering, physics, data science and biology, and his current research focuses on optimal mass transport theory with applications in stochastic control, machine learning and biology networks.

George S. Axelby, for whom the Outstanding Paper Award is named, was the founding editor of the IEEE journal in 1956.