Belabbas receives NSF CAREER Award

4/23/2014 Mark Pajor, ECE ILLINOIS

ECE Assistant Professor Mohamed Ali Belabbas received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The award will fund his research uniting graph theory, computer science, and geometry to develop control-theoretic methods to understand decentralized networks.

Written by Mark Pajor, ECE ILLINOIS

A new paradigm has emerged for control systems.

During the past 20 years, engineers and theorists have shifted away from control systems that are centralized, where one agent, the leader or control center, broadcasts commands and information to every other agent. Increasingly, researchers are realizing that many control systems – from decentralized power distribution systems to auction systems – can be configured as a collection of interacting autonomous agents.

This shift in thought requires new frameworks to determine what communication structures between agents form efficient systems.

Mohamed Ali Belabbas
Mohamed Ali Belabbas
ECE Assistant Professor Mohamed Ali Belabbas recently received a CAREER Award, given by the National Science Foundation (NSF), to develop just such a framework. Uniting ideas from graph theory, computer science, and geometry, Belabbas aims to develop control-theoretic methods to understand decentralized networks. Belabbas is also affiliated with the Coordinated Science Lab (CSL).

Belabbas’s research in control theory could facilitate advancements in a wide range of areas.

“Dynamical systems can represent robots, money markets, flocks of birds, people interacting, or any ensembles as varied as these,” Belabbas said. “My work is to find tools to analyze the systems and predict their behavior.”

With the five-year award to fund a long-term research program, Belabbas will focus on the communication structure between agents of a decentralized system. The level of communication among agents in a system is a structural question that can be applied to any number of areas that involve networks, from distributed optimization to metabolic networks.

Belabbas’s work will enable the deployment and analysis of large-scale, efficient multi-agent systems with a higher degree of complexity and reliability.

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program awards junior faculty members who integrate outstanding research and excellent education initiatives. The program limits submitters to three applications to earn the award during their career, and many applicants compete each year. Belabbas submitted his proposal last summer and was notified of his award this January. This was the first time he applied.

“I’m very glad of the help I’ve had from ECE and CSL to apply,” Belabbas said. “The value of the CAREER Award is that it gives you a longer timeline to think about a problem and make as deep a contribution as you can.”

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This story was published April 23, 2014.