ORIE’s Chen awarded NSF CAREER grant

The National Science Foundation has awarded ORIE Assistant Professor Yudong Chen a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant. The research in this project will cover a diverse set of important statistical and machine learning problems. The techniques developed will provide a refined analysis of the algorithmic performance for average-case problems in statistical settings.

This project aims to develop new algorithms and performance analysis for nonconvex and nonsmooth optimization problems that arise in machine learning and statistical settings. Conventional wisdom treats nonconvex and nonsmooth problems as hard to solve.

“The new techniques developed in this project will allow researchers to use nonconvexity and nonsmoothness to our advantage for more accurate modeling and more efficient computation,” said Chen.

Professor Chen’s project aims to broaden substantially the class of problems for which efficient algorithms exist, and for which performance guarantees can be obtained. The project will develop new algorithms and analytical tools that are applicable in a broad range of engineering and science applications. Furthermore, the project will support an education plan that centers on the goal of bridging the disciplines of optimization and statistics at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

“We plan to participate in two Cornell summer outreach programs,” says Chen. “The CURIE Academy, which serves approximately 40 female high school students from around the country, and the CATALYST program, which is targeted towards underrepresented minorities. Our research module will expose the students to real-world problems in the intersection of optimization, signal processing and machine learning, and introduce foundational ideas from these fields.”

“We will explore applications in financial networks and in distributed machine learning on medical monitoring platforms, for which efficiently solving nonconvex and nonsmooth problems is crucial to accurate modeling and analysis of complex datasets,” Chen said. “Overall the broader impact plan of this proposal centers on integrating/bridging optimization and statistics (the two key strengths of our ORIE department) in both research and education.”

The prestigious CAREER grant honors junior faculty for outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research. CAREER awards are granted through an NSF-wide activity "in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research," according to the NSF. Chen was awarded a five-year grant for a total of $542,767.

Chen joined ORIE in 2015 after receiving a Ph.D. from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin in 2013, and his Bachelor and Master degrees from Tsinghua University in 2008. Before coming to Cornell, he was a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences in University of California, Berkeley.

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