Balakrishnan Award Honors Legacy of Engineer Who Chose Math Over the Movies

| November 13, 2023

Third ECE award goes to Washington University’s Xudong Chen.

This is an image of Dr. Xudong Chen, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. He received the A.V. “Bal” Balakrishnan Early Career Award for Excellence in Scientific Research at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering on Oct. 24, 2023 in Los Angeles.

Dr. Xudong Chen of Washington University received the A.V. “Bal” Balakrishnan Early Career Award for Excellence in Scientific Research at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering on Oct. 24, 2023. (USC Photo/Landon Hall)

Friends, colleagues and admirers of A.V. “Bal” Balakrishnan gathered on October 24 to recall the achievements, ingenuity, and creativity of the renowned mathematician and engineer. And to bestow an honor that passes his legacy to the next generation of scholars.

Xudong Chen, an associate professor of electrical and systems engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, was presented with the A.V. “Bal” Balakrishnan Early Career Award for Excellence in Scientific Research in the Ming Hsieh Boardroom in Ronald Tutor Hall.

“Having an award with his name on it means a lot to me,” Chen said. “It’s going from one generation to another; it’s really inspiring.” Chen gave a talk on his research topic, “Structure Theory for Nonholonomic Ensemble Systems.”

The award was presented by Petros Ioannou, professor of electrical and computer engineering and inaugural holder of the A.V. “Bal” Balakrishnan Chair at USC Viterbi, as well as Balakrishnan’s widow Sophia Balakrishnan. It was her generous gift that established the award.

Dr. Xudong Chen with Sophia Balakrishnan, widow of A.V. "Bal" Balakrishnan.

Dr. Chen with Sophia Balakrishnan, widow of “Bal” Balakrishnan, who died in 2015. It was Sophia’s gift that made possible the award named in her late husband’s honor. (USC Photo/Landon Hall)

Balakrishnan died in 2015 at 92, and his rise to prominence is the stuff of legend in Southern California: Born in India, he earned a master’s degree in physics from Presidency College in the city of Chennai, formerly Madras. He came to USC in 1946 to study filmmaking. He received a master’s in cinema and was intent on going into sound recording for the movies, earning another master’s from USC, in electrical engineering. But one of his professors, Ralph S. Phillips, the respected mathematician, recognized Balakrishan’s abilities and encouraged him to pursue a PhD in mathematics.

Balakrishnan developed and proved many theories during his illustrious career, many of which had applications in aerospace. He taught at UCLA, where he was on faculty at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science for more than 50 years. He mentored 54 PhD students, and authored 12 books and some 200 journal articles.

“Many of his countless students went on to careers in academia and industry. Everyone knew him as a kind, thoughtful and formidable teacher and scholar,” Ioannou said. “He published countless papers, while encouraging his students to publish their work as solo authors.”

A photo of Prof. Petros Ioannou (right) at the 2023 Balakrishnan Awards at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Prof. Petros Ioannou (right) talks about the late A.V. “Bal” Balakrishnan at an awards ceremony in Bal’s honor on Oct. 24, 2023. Prof. Xudong Chen (seated, center) was the recipient. (USC Photo/Qi Wang)

That was a sentiment echoed by Miroslav Krstic of UC San Diego. He knew Balakrishnan and said “Bal did it his way; he was truly unique.”

The award goes to an early-career scholar one year, and for general research the next. The 2021 and 2022 awards were given in October 2022, because travel was limited by the pandemic in the inaugural year. Krstic received the research award last year, and Yongxin Chen of Georgia Tech was given the early-career honor.

Sophia Balakrishnan said hearing all the wonderful things said about her late husband shows that his work endures. “He was a very modest man,” she said. “I’m very proud that he lives on. I’m not surprised because I knew the man for so many years, but it’s still amazing that he has such great respect and admiration.”

Published on November 13th, 2023

Last updated on May 16th, 2024

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