SIAM News Blog

Prize Spotlight: William McEneaney and Peter Dower

William M. McEneaney (center) and Peter M. Dower (right) received their award plaques from SIAM President Nicholas J. Higham at the AN17 Prizes and Awards Luncheon.
William M. McEneaney of the University of California, San Diego, and Peter M. Dower of the University of Melbourne were awarded the SIAM Activity Group on Control and Systems Theory Best SICON Paper Prize at the 2017 SIAM Conference on Control and Its Applications (CT17), held July 10–12, 2017 jointly with the SIAM Annual Meeting (AN17), in Pittsburgh, PA.

The SIAM Activity Group on Control and Systems Theory (SIAG/CST) awards the SIAG/CST Best SICON Paper Prize biennially to the authors of the two most outstanding papers published in SIAM Journal on Control and Optimization (SICON) in the two calendar years preceding the award year. McEneaney and Dower were recognized for the contributions of their paper, “The Principle of Least Action and Fundamental Solutions of Mass-Spring and N-Body Two-Point Boundary Value Problems,” published in SICON in 2015. McEneaney presented their paper at a session of CT17.

William M. McEneaney
William M. McEneaney received his B.S. and M.S. in mathematics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Brown University. He has held industrial and governmental positions at PAR Technology, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. He has held academic positions at Carnegie Mellon University, North Carolina State University, and the University of California, San Diego, where he is currently a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His research interests include nonlinear systems, stochastic control, dynamic games, max-plus methods, and Hamilton-Jacobi partial differential equations.

Peter M. Dower
Peter M. Dower received a B.E. degree in computer engineering from the University of Newcastle, Australia, and a Ph.D. in engineering from the Australian National University. He subsequently was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mathematics at the University of California, San Diego. He is now an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Melbourne. His research expertise includes optimal control, Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman partial differential equations, and idempotent methods for computation.

Q: Why are you excited about winning this prize?

A: This award is a fantastic recognition of the ongoing importance of optimal control in not only influencing, but also understanding the world around us. It is the outcome of a sustained collaboration that has generated substantial and, perhaps more importantly, surprising results. Our sincerest thanks to SIAG/CST for this honor.

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

A: The development in the paper exploits tools from idempotent algebra, convex analysis, optimal control, and fundamental physics (via the action principle), and connections between them, to construct a fundamental solution object that underlies all possible solutions to a class of two point boundary value problems associated with the gravitational N-body problem. This fundamental solution object can in principle be used to synthesize thrust-free trajectories, satisfying initial, terminal, and way-points constraints, in gravitational environments involving many moving bodies.

Q: What does your research mean to the public?

A: The research is concerned with understanding how complicated gravitational environments involving many moving masses evolve temporally, and solving problems constrained by that evolution. It may find application in trajectory prediction and orbital injection problems, for example, where mixed boundary conditions for gravitational bodies (positions, velocities, etc., at initial and terminal times) must be mapped to admissible thrust-free trajectories that are consistent with these boundary conditions, including what are commonly referred to as gravity-assist trajectories. Its potential impact could include contributions to fast trajectory identification for newly discovered near-earth orbit objects and interplanetary mission planning.

Q: What does being a SIAM member mean to you?

A: SIAM is our home organization. It has established a platform around which the community of researchers in applied mathematics has coalesced. It not only publishes the relevant top journals, but also provides additional, important means of communication through the various SIAM conferences and activity groups. Lastly, with the best paper and other award classes, it is allowing members of our community to be recognized for their hard work and achievements.

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