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Prize Spotlight: Javad Lavaei

Javad Lavaei
Javad Lavaei of the University of California, Berkeley is the 2017 recipient of the SIAM Activity Group on Control and Systems Theory (SIAG/CST) Prize. He received the award and delivered a lecture at the SIAM Conference on Control and Systems Theory (CT17), held jointly with the SIAM Annual Meeting (AN17) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The SIAM Activity Group on Control and Systems Theory (SIAG/CST) awards the prize every two years to an outstanding researcher in their early career for distinguished contributions to mathematical control or systems theory. The award recognizes Lavaei for the design of computationally efficient methods solving a broad class of nonlinear optimization problems arising in systems theory and control. He delivered his lecture, “Graph-Theoretic Convexification of Polynomial Optimization Problems with Applications to Power Systems and Distributed Control,” on July 12, 2017.

Javad Lavaei is an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Before that, he was an assistant professor at Columbia University in 2012-2015. He received his PhD in control and dynamical systems from the California Institute of Technology in 2011 and was a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University for a year. His research centers on various interdisciplinary problems in control theory, optimization theory, power systems, and data science.

Q: Why are you excited about receiving this prize?

A: I am very honored to receive this award and excited that my scientific community has recognized my research and contributions. This award provides the unique opportunity to deliver a lecture at the 2017 SIAM Conference on Control and its Applications and to share my results and ideas with the community of control researchers.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about the research that won you the prize?

A: I work in the three areas of control theory, optimization theory, and power systems. My research on control theory deals with the design and analysis of large-scale complex systems, with a special focus on the optimal distributed control problem. In optimization theory, I study the design of efficient computational methods and numerical algorithms for nonlinear optimization problems. In particular, I aim to understand how the structure and/or sparsity of real-world problems could be exploited to design better optimization techniques for those systems. My research on power systems is about the modernization of legacy power grids, and one main goal is to develop high-performance control and optimization tools for the real-time operation of such systems. Since the operation of power systems is very complex, the existing algorithms suffer from major issues and improving their solutions by 1% would amount to over a billion dollars in the US annually (in addition to the obvious environmental benefits). The results developed by my group in the Laboratory for Control, Optimization, and Power have been revamping the area of algorithm design for power systems, and have received a considerable amount of interest from academia and industry.

Q: What does your research mean to the public?

A: My group has presented our results at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission eight times in the past four years, and we have been collaborating with many researchers in academia and industry to have a major impact on society. The energy domain is only one application of our mathematical work, but the societal benefits are enormous.

Q: What does SIAM mean to you?

A: I have very much enjoyed attending SIAM conferences, reading papers published in esteemed SIAM journals and have had the pleasure of publishing in SIAM.
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