Tamer Başar


Tamer Başar
Tamer Başar

Q: What is your area of expertise?
A: I work in a number of disciplines, the main one being control systems. Other major areas include game theory and communication and computer networks. I have also done work in economics.

Q: Where did you receive your education?
A: I received my BS in electrical engineering from Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1969. I then went to Yale as a graduate student, and received MS, MPhil, and PhD degrees in engineering and applied science, in 1970, 1971 and 1972, respectively. I worked briefly at Harvard University, Marmara Research Institute (Gebze, Turkey), and Bogaziçi University (Istanbul), before joining Illinois at the beginning of 1981. I’ve been here since then.

Q: You’ve had a long affiliation with Illinois. Why?
A: The engineering college here is one of the best in the world. I don’t think there is another institution of higher learning where congeniality and conduciveness of the research environment to major accomplishments are as strong as they are here at Illinois. All these years, in addition to having and interacting with wonderful colleagues, working with students (in teaching and research) has also been a pleasure. Finally, the community around the University is also a great environment to live in and raise a family.

Q: Why did you become an electrical engineer?
A: I spent my childhood and teenage years in Istanbul, where I attended some of the best schools and enjoyed particularly math and science. With this background, it was a natural path for me to go into engineering, particularly electrical engineering which was a perfect match to my interests and plans for a future career. Also, I always liked to teach and explain things to others, even when I was a student. That naturally led to a career at a university and a research institution.

Q: What is a research accomplishment you’re proud of?
A: I don’t want to single out any particular accomplishment; I’m proud of my entire record of publications and teaching, as well as service to the profession. I’m also proud of all the students who have worked with me and from whom I have also learned so much.

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: There are so many aspects! I enjoy transferring knowledge as well as the skills to learn to younger minds. Being a control theorist, I see the mechanism of teaching as a feedback system, where you constantly monitor the performance of the students and based on that adjust the way knowledge is transferred. I take pleasure in both classroom teaching as well as mentoring students in one-on-one interactions or in small groups.

Q: What role do students play in your research?
A: Students are an integral part of my research activities. It’s rewarding to see a student demonstrate creativity, generate knowledge, and contribute to individual as well as collaborative research. One thing I focus on is making sure the students develop the skills to clearly explain their work. I also make sure they develop as independent thinkers early on in their research career.

Q: What are you focused on today?
A: One focus area is distributed control, particularly in the context of remote control. I try to answer questions such as "How can one control objects at remote locations effectively from multiple points in an uncertain and possibly hostile environment, using limited information exchange?"

Another focus area is developing pricing schemes for efficient resource allocation in communication networks; this line of research utilizes tools of game theory.

I’m also working with the Information Trust Institute on campus on problems related to security and trust. Our goal is to build systems that are as open and accessible as possible while at the same time being as secure as possible.

Q: What does the future hold?
A: The fields in which I am working will be with us for many years to come. Any advancement in technology will use the conceptual and the algorithmic tools we have been developing. The future is promising, and we have only scratched the tip of the iceberg.

Q: What technology that’s currently under development are you most anxious/excited to see completed?

One example is a piece of work a recent ECE PhD student, Shao (Julian) Liu, co-supervised by me and my colleague Professor R. Srikant, completed for his thesis. He developed a new Internet protocol, which we called TCP-Illinois, using ideas from networking, economics, and feedback systems. This is an improvement on the current TCP in many respects, and we are hopeful that it will be adopted and widely used in the future. Linux researchers are currently working to make it available for broad usage in the open domain.