October 23, 2013

Stephen Boyd: Making the best decisions in smart systems, products

News and Information

Never underestimate your substitute teachers. When Maryam Fazel, a University of Washington assistant professor of electrical engineering, was in a first-year engineering course at Stanford University, a substitute filled in for the usual professor. As she listened to the lecture, Fazel recalls wondering if she was in the right class.

“The way this lecturer conveyed the material was so amazing, you’d think it was a totally different set of material,” Fazel said.

That professor, Stephen Boyd, would later become Fazel’s adviser as she pursued her doctorate. Boyd is the speaker at this year’s Lytle Lecture Series hosted by the UW’s Department of Electrical Engineering. He will give a free public talk at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering atrium. Boyd will give another more technical talk Tuesday afternoon in the Electrical Engineering Building.

photo of stephen boydBoyd researches complex decision making in the face of uncertainty, also known as optimization. As automation has seeped into nearly every aspect of our lives – from generating search-engine results to detecting fraud in real time and managing flight schedules – we need a way to run these “smart” systems so they produce the best results, quickly, given many unknowns.

Boyd’s recent work leverages big data to solve complicated problems in the fields of power systems, supply and demand, finance trading, search engines and email spam filters. For example, in an electrical power system, managers must try to predict electricity demand while minimizing costs and not overburdening transmission lines – all in real-time. Unplanned outages further prompt the need for modeling to help make these decisions.

Boyd’s publications and teaching have made contributions to the field outside of his research group and institution, Fazel added. Starting years ago, Boyd began posting his lecture notes and videos online, pioneering the trend that continues today.

“He has a lot of educational innovation,” she said. “The impact of his research is very broad in academics and industry.”

Monday’s talk will be livestreamed on electrical engineering’s website and available for viewing later on the department’s YouTube channel.

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For more information, contact Fazel at mfazel@uw.edu or 206-616-4781. For lecture details, contact Erin Olnon at erin82@uw.edu or 206-616-4909.

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