Cressler, Romberg Honored with Prestigious IEEE Medals

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John Cressler (left) and Justin Romberg

John D. Cressler and Justin K. Romberg, both faculty members from the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), have been awarded with two of the most prestigious honors presented by the IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.

Cressler and Romberg were both honored with IEEE medals at the IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit (IEEE VIC Summit) and Honors Ceremony, held virtually May 11-13, 2021. Cressler was honored with the 2021 IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal for a career of outstanding contributions to education in the fields of interest to IEEE. Romberg was honored as a co-recipient of the 2021 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal for outstanding contributions in signal processing.

John D. Cressler

As the recipient of the 2021 IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal, Cressler was honored “for inspirational teaching and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students.” He was recognized with this award on May 11 by IEEE President-Elect Ray Liu.

Cressler is the third faculty member from ECE to receive this honor. Previous recipients include Ronald W. Schafer (1992) and James D. Meindl (1990, while with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). The James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal was established in 1956 and is sponsored by Lockheed Martin, MathWorks, Pearson, and the IEEE Life Members Fund.

“This is a tremendous honor for John, and his commitment to teaching and mentoring — and to the success and well-being of our students – is a tremendous model for all of us to follow,” said Magnus Egerstedt, Steve W. Chaddick School Chair and Professor in ECE.

Cressler is the Schlumberger Chair Professor in Electronics and the Ken Byers Teaching Fellow in Science and Religion at Georgia Tech. He has been the associate director of the Georgia Electronic Design Center since 2015. Cressler joined the Georgia Tech ECE faculty in 2002 after spending a decade as a faculty member in the Department of ECE at Auburn University. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in applied physics at Columbia University and his B.S. degree in physics from Georgia Tech in 1984.

Cressler couples his passions for teaching and mentoring with being the leader of one of the largest, most visible, and most productive silicon-germanium (SiGe) research groups in the world. He and his colleagues have written over 700 refereed journal and conference papers, and he has graduated over 100 Ph.D. and master’s students who are now leaders in the electronics industry, academia, and government and research labs or who have started their own successful companies.

Cressler is a mainstay in the microelectronics instructional program in ECE and has introduced first-of-a-kind courses – CoE 3002 Introduction to the Microelectronics and Nanotechnology Revolution and ECE 6444 Silicon-based Heterostructure Devices and Circuits – that use textbooks that he has written and that have been adopted by other universities around the world. He also teaches IAC 2002 Science, Engineering, and Religion: An Interfaith Dialogue in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. This course is open to undergraduate students of all years and majors and has always been positively received by the students.

Cressler has received many top teaching and mentoring awards from Georgia Tech and from IEEE and Eta Kappa Nu. His goal for his Ph.D. students is to fall in love with research, while maintaining a good work-life balance, and to provide a safe place to fail and to be creative and innovative. In the classroom, Cressler believes that the keys to success are passion for what you teach, being real, being and sharing who you are and what you believe with your students, and being approachable and showing that you care.

Cressler said that teaching is his life and vocation, and he counts teaching and mentoring as his great passion in the classroom, lab, and life. “My accomplishments are best measured by the success of my students,” Cressler said. “Receiving an award for teaching and mentoring, which is something very close to my heart, means a great deal to me.”

To view Cressler’s award presentation from the IEEE VIC Summit and Honors Ceremony, please visit https://ieeetv.ieee.org/channels/communities/awards-hall-c-day-1-ieee-vic-summit-and-honors-ceremony. His presentation starts at the 6:40 mark.

Justin K. Romberg

As a co-recipient of the 2021 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal, Romberg was honored “for groundbreaking contributions to compressed sensing.” He received this medal with his colleagues, Emmanuel Candes, who holds The Barnum-Simons Chair in Mathematics and Statistics at Stanford University, and Terence Tao, a professor of mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Romberg and his colleagues were recognized with this award on May 12 by IEEE President-Elect Liu. He is the fourth faculty member from ECE to receive this honor. Previous recipients include Thomas P. Barnwell (2014), Ronald W. Schafer (2010), and James H. McClellan (2004). The IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal was established in 1995 and is sponsored by the Kilby Medal Fund.

“This is a tremendous honor for Justin, and our amazing faculty track record in receiving this award speaks of the high regard in which our digital signal processing program is held around the world,” said Egerstedt.

Romberg holds the Schlumberger Professorship and is the associate chair for Research in ECE. He is also the senior director for the Center for Machine Learning at Georgia Tech. Romberg joined the ECE faculty in 2006 after working as a postdoctoral scholar in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Caltech for three years. He received his B.S.E.E., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from Rice University in 1997, 1999, and 2004, respectively.

Romberg, Candes, and Tao were recognized for their 2006 paper, “Robust Uncertainty Principles: Exact Reconstruction from Highly Incomplete Frequency Information,” which demonstrated that structured signal samples could be reconstructed perfectly from very few samples. The paper established the field of compressed sensing, which is considered one of the most important developments in signal processing in the last 50 years.

This paper spurred a flurry of research activities, with engineers and scientists exploring ways to use compressed sensing in a variety of applications. Compressed sensing has been used in wireless sensor networks, more efficient data aggregation, and improved data recovery, and has resulted in energy-efficient network routing protocols, reduced data transmission requirements, and improved network security.

Compressed sensing has even been used in astrological imaging and medical imaging. The first images of black holes from the Event Horizon Telescope were based on compressed sensing reconstruction methods. However, the greatest success of compressed sensing can be found in MRI imaging, where the technology is used to shorten the imaging process drastically without losing image quality.

Romberg said that one of the best things about the work in compressed sensing is how it has introduced him to ideas and people in many different areas of applied mathematics, such as harmonic analysis, optimization, and applied probability and statistical learning.

“It has been extremely rewarding to be exposed to new ideas from these fields by interacting with researchers on a common problem set,” Romberg said. “It has also been a pleasure to see how this early work was translated into different problem domains and built a strong foundation for me across disciplinary research, which is something that I have valued throughout my career.”

To view Romberg’s award presentation from the IEEE VIC Summit and Honors Ceremony, please visit https://ieeetv.ieee.org/channels/communities/awards-hall-a-day-2-ieee-vic-summit-and-honors-ceremony. His presentation starts at the 4:55 mark.

Nemhauser Honored with Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award

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ISyE Professor Hits Home Run with Top Honor

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Scratching his head, facing a chalkboard.

George Nemhauser is widely considered to be one of the world’s top optimization researchers, and he has received the official recognition to match: He is the A. Russell Chandler III Chair and Institute Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISyE), recipient of the inaugural Khachiyan Prize for lifetime contributions to the field, and the only person to twice receive the Lanchester Prize for best publication in operations research. He is also the first sitting professor at Georgia Tech to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Now, he is receiving the Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award.  

“Almost all the awards I have received have been from my profession,” Nemhauser said. “This is the Georgia Tech award. This means a lot to me because it connects directly to Georgia Tech.” 

The Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award recognizes outstanding achievement in teaching, research, and service. It is the highest award given to a faculty member. The award, instituted in 1984 by the Class of 1934 in observance of its 50th reunion, is presented to an active professor who has made significant, long-term contributions — contributions that would have brought widespread recognition to the professor, to his or her school, and to the Institute.

Letters of support for Nemhauser’s nomination came from colleagues and former students around the world. 

“My stimulation and the fact that I can still be working and having lots of fun — as old as I am — is because of what these people give to me,” said the 77-year-old. “I’m not this great humanitarian, unselfish guy by any means. It’s completely a two-way deal. When I get a chance to work with these young people, to me, that’s the greatest pleasure in life. That’s always been the best thing for me: to work one-on-one or with a small number of undergraduate and graduate students and young faculty. Those are the people who keep me on my toes.”  

From Center Field to Operations Research 

Growing up in New York, Nemhauser dreamed of playing center field for the Yankees. He estimated that by the time he was ready for the position, Joe DiMaggio would be retiring. That didn’t happen. He was a teen when DiMaggio retired, and Mickey Mantle took the position. 

“I played all sports — with lots of effort and very limited ability. I did not have talent,” Nemhauser laughed. “But I love math. I was the kid who could compute the other kids’ batting average. I wasn’t the best player, but if they wanted to know their batting average — see George.” 

When it was time to head to college, Nemhauser was leaning toward majoring in math, but his mother encouraged him to study engineering. It was during a summer internship that he first learned about optimization and game theory, and he was fascinated. He started graduate school in chemical engineering, but switched to operations research as the field was just starting academically. 

“Man, was I lucky,” he said. “Any success like this — honestly, so much of it is luck: being in the right place at the right time. I believe that 100 percent.”  

What is Optimization?

“Optimization is about decision making. Whether it’s a problem in business or a problem related to health or medicine, the notion is: ‘How can we use optimization to make better decisions?’ 

“Most of these optimization problems have a huge number of variables and constraints. The contribution from our optimization group here at Georgia Tech — which, by the way is the best optimization group in the world, independent of me — is that we build the algorithms that allow [for] efficient computations for problems with thousands of variables.” 

Nemhauser’s company, the Sports Scheduling Group, schedules games for the ACC, the SEC, the Big 10, and Major League Baseball. 

“Scheduling Major League Baseball is a big optimization problem. You have all of these games to schedule, and a lot of it is driven by television contracts, which is where the revenue comes from. If you don’t get the right games at the right time — that Saturday or Sunday afternoon game between the Yankees and the Red Sox — the contracts won’t be what they would be otherwise.”  

Having Fun

Having started teaching in 1961, Nemhauser has advised 65 doctoral students. Many of them are now on the faculty at MIT, Chicago, Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley, and other top universities around the world. One of the biggest changes he’s noticed over the 54 years he’s had dealings with graduate students is the interaction with them. 

“I’ve always tried to eliminate formality. I hate formality. I’m a very, very casual person,” he said. “When I started, there was more formality. To get a graduate student to call me ‘George’ was hard. But I needed to do that from the get-go, so I spent time trying to break down the formality that existed between faculty and students. Now, I think that problem has gone away. Things are much more casual.”

In keeping with his casual approach, Nemhauser says he doesn’t have a specific plan for the future. 

“I don’t know what’s next,” he said. “If I can keep my health and I’m having fun…  

“I’ve never made long-term plans. I don’t believe in them,” he said. “I’ve never had a five-year-plan in my whole life,” he said. “A one-year-plan? That’s good. 

“My basic philosophy is: No. 1 — have fun in what you’re doing. That, to me, beats it all.” 

Location

Atlanta, GA

Email

victor.rogers@comm.gatech.edu

Contact

Victor Rogers
Institute Communications
404-894-6398

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