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Former CSL student takes lab experience to Harvard


Allie Arp, CSL

At Harvard University, crimson red dominates the campus, symbolizing the university’s prestigious 382-year history. But when CSL alum Yue Lu, now the Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Applied Mathematics at Harvard, presents slides, he proudly flaunts Illini orange and blue instead.

“I really benefitted a lot from my time at Illinois,” said Lu, of his loyalty to his alma mater. “I joined Minh Do’s vibrant research group and took classes from many other professors. I learned a lot from interacting with these great role models.”
Yue Lu
Yue Lu

In addition to Do, Lu’s engineering adviser, he also thanks his mathematics adviser Richard Laugesen for the training and skills he learned at Illinois, which he uses every day in his career. He specifically cites his training in mathematics and signal processing as significant.

His experiences at Illinois – including participating in a research group, taking engineering and mathematics classes, and interning in industry -- were just the beginning of a career that has led to a named professorship at Harvard. Lu’s recent research focuses on universality.

“I am obsessed with my ongoing project about universality,” said Lu. “Essentially, universality is the phenomenon that many very large and complicated systems exhibit similar macroscopic behavior although their microscopic constructions can be totally different. This fascinating phenomenon has been observed in statistical mechanics, random matrix theory, and information processing systems. I am excited about understanding the origin of this behavior and seeing new ways to exploit it.”

While a student at Illinois, Lu received the Most Innovative Paper Award of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Image Processing (ICIP) for his paper with Do on the construction of directional multiresolution image representations, as well as the Best Student Paper Award of IEEE ICIP in 2007 and the Best Student Presentation Award at the 31st SIAM SEAS Conference in 2007. Since graduation, he has coauthored papers that received the Best Student Paper Award of IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing in 2011, the Best Student Paper Award of IEEE Global Conference on Signal and Information Processing in 2014, and the Student Paper Award (First Prize) of IEEE CAMSAP in 2017. He was awarded the ECE Illinois Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2015.

Lu holds multiple degrees from Illinois. He received his M.S. in mathematics and his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, both in 2007. Before fully committing to academia, Lu completed an internship in industry before returning to academia because he felt it was a perfect fit for his temperament.

For current students, his advice is to network with each other.

“Talk with fellow students,” Lu advises. “Even if they work in totally different areas you’ll get to know what other people are working on. Once you break the jargon barrier, you might be pleasantly surprised to see the connections between different fields.”