Curriculum Vitae - Jan C. Willems

Professional biography

Jan C. Willems
was born in Bruges in Flanders, Belgium. He studied engineering at the University of Ghent. After his graduation in 1963, he went to the US, and obtained the M.Sc. degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1965, and the Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968, both in electrical engineering.

      He was an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at MIT from 1968 to 1973, with a one year leave of absence at DAMPT, the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, of the University of Cambridge. In his dissertation he worked on input/output stability, under the direction of Roger W. Brockett, presently emeritus professor from Harvard University. This research led to the monograph The Analysis of Feedback Systems, MIT Press, 1971. He subsequently worked on optimal control, in particular on linear-quadratic problems with indefinite cost and associated questions related to the Riccati equation. Out of this work, the notion of a dissipative system and the linear matrix inequality (LMI) emerged as the main concepts and analysis tools. In the 80's and 90's these ideas came to play a central role in the synthesis of robust controllers.

      On February 1, 1973, he was appointed Professor of Systems and Control in the Mathematics Department of the University of Groningen. His interests turned to geometric control and questions of disturbance decoupling. He introduced the notion of almost invariant subspaces which allows the solution of a number of control problems involving high gain feedback.

      In the mid 80's, he became conscious of the limitations of input/output thinking as the framework for the analysis and synthesis of open and interconnected systems. This uneasiness led him to develop what is called the behavioral approach, in which a dynamical system is simply viewed as a family of trajectories. This work also emphasizes the importance, for example in object oriented modeling, of latent variables in addition to the manifest variables which the model aims at. In the behavioral setting, interconnection is viewed as variable sharing, and control is viewed as interconnection, with feedback as an important special case. The original ideas were introduced in an early paper in the, now defunct, Italian journal Ricerche di Automatica. A more extensive development appeared in a 3-part paper in Automatica  in 1986-87, and in a paper in Dynamics Reported  in 1989. Other convenient sources for these ideas are two papers in the IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control (1991 and 1997), a textbook (co-authored with Jan Willem Polderman) published by Springer Verlag, and an expository article published in the IEEE Control Systems Magazine in 2007. In 1988, he was awarded the Automatica Prize Paper Award for the series of 3 articles in which the behavioral framework was put forward.

      In 2003, Professor Willems became emeritus professor from the University of Groningen. He gave his farewell lecture on January 13, 2004. Since then he was guest professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering, with the research group on Signals, Identification, System Theory and Automation (SISTA), at the K.U. Leuven, Belgium. During the academic year 2003-2004, he held the Chaire Francqui at the  Faculty of Applied Sciences of the Université catholique de Louvain.

      Professor Willems became a fellow of the IEEE, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the American Mathematical Society, and the International Federation of Automatic Control. He has held the unavoidable administrative positions in his department at the University of Groningen, including a six year term as director of research. He served terms as chairperson of the European Union Control Association and of the Dutch Mathematical Society (Wiskundig Genootschap). He has been on the editorial board of a number of journals, in particular, as managing editor of the SIAM Journal of Control and Optimization and as founding and managing editor of Systems & Control Letters.

      In 1998, he received the IEEE Control Systems award. In 2010, he became doctor honoris causa from the Université de Liège.

      On Saturday August 31st, 2013 Jan Willems passed away. A memorial website is available here.

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Extensive professional biography

Present position
Guest Professor
Research group on Signals, Identification, System Theory and Automation (SISTA)
Department of Electrical Engineering, K.U. Leuven
Kasteelpark Arenberg 10, B-3001 Leuven-Heverlee, Belgium
Telephone: +3232390529; secretary: +3216321709;helma denny3 Fax: +32163211970.
email: Jan'dot'Willems'at'esat'dot'kuleuven'dot'be
Former positions
1973-2003: Professor of Systems and Control (presently emeritus)
Department of Mathematics and Computing Science, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

1968-1973:  Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

The MIT Electrical Engineering Control group in 1972.

From left to right: Lenny Gould, Sanjoy Mitter, Mike Athans, Fred Schweppe, and Jan Willems.
1965-1968:  Graduate School of Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Doctor of Philosophy, June 1968
Ph.D. dissertation: Nonlinear Harmonic Analysis, supervisor: Roger W. Brockett

Five generations of Ph.D. supervision.

From left to right: Michael Rotkowitz, Sanjay Lall, Keith Glover, Jan Willems, and Roger Brockett.
Photograph taken at the dinner of the conference on the occasion of the 60th birthday of Keith Glover at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, England, on April 22, 2006.

1963-1965:  Graduate School of Electrical Engineering, University of Rhode Island
Master of Science, June 1965
M.Sc. thesis: The Statistical Properties of the Slope of a Wind Driven Surface in a Model Tank

1958-1963: Faculty of Engineering, University of Ghent, Belgium
Degree of Electromechanical Engineer, July 1963
Engineering thesis: The Magnetic Field at the End Windings of a Turbogenerator

Professional field and research interests
Principal research areas:
     Systems theory, control, modeling
     Representation questions, system identification
     Applications in control engineering, physics, and econometrics

Present research program:
      The development of the behavioral approach to systems theory
      Modeling of open dynamical systems
      Algorithms for modeling based on tearing, zooming, and linking
      Model reduction and system identification
      Dissipative systems
      Control in a behavioral setting
Professional activities
Chairperson, selection committee for the IEEE CSS Antonio Ruberti Young Researcher Prize (2005-2010)
Director, Research Institute of Mathematics and Computing Science, University of Groningen (1993-1998)
Chairperson, Department of Mathematics and Computing Science, University of Groningen (1986-1989)
President of the European Union Control Association (EUCA) (1993-1995)
President of the Dutch Mathematical Society (Wiskundig Genootschap) (1994-1996)
Chairperson of the Board of the Dutch Institute of Systems and Control (DISC) (1995- 2001)
Chairperson of Dutch Institute of Systems and Control (DISC) (National Graduate Program) (1986-1995)
Chairperson of the Johann Bernoulli Foundation for Mathematics (1988-1997)
Chairperson of the Selection Committee for the 1990 Brouwer Medal
Member of IEEE, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Dutch Mathematical Society (Wiskundig Genootschap), American Mathematical Society
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Awards and honors
2010  doctor honoris causa from the Université de Liège.

Rodolphe Sepulchre, Jan Willems, and Bernard Rentier (Rector of the Université de Liège).

Photograph taken at the doctor honoris causa ceremony on October 16, 2010.

2006: The paper co-authored with Bart van Luyten and Bart De Moor, and presented by Bart van Luyten, received a paper prize for outstanding technical quality, originality, importance, and presentation at an interactive session at the 45th IEEE Conference on Decision and Control

2003-2004  Chaire Francqui at the Faculty of Applied Sciences of the Université catholique de Louvain

1998 IEEE Control Systems award "For seminal contributions to control theory and leadership in systems research"

1998 IEEE Control Systems Magazine outstanding paper award

Invited speaker at the 1998 International Congress of Mathematicians, Berlin

Festschrift: Three Decades of Mathematical System Theory,A Collection of Surveys at the Occasion of the 50th Birthday of Jan C. Willems (Editors H. Nijmeijer and J.M. Schumacher)
Lecture Notes in Control and Information Sciences, Volume 135, Springer Verlag, 1989

1987 Automatica prize paper award

1980  Fellow of the IEEE (presently Life Fellow)
2012  Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
2012  Fellow of the American Mathematical Society
2012  Fellow of the International Federation of Automatic Control

1963-1965: Fulbright fellowship for graduate study in the US
Named lectures
Antonio Ruberti lecture, Rome, 2007
Peter Sagirow lecture, Stuttgart, 2006
Miegunyah public lecture, Melbourne, 1997
Zaborsky lecture, St Louis, 1993

Visiting appointments

November 2006: Visiting professor, Kyoto University
March-May 2005: Visiting professor, Kyoto University
May-June 2003: University of Osaka and Kyoto University
September - December 1998: Harvard University
January - March 1997: Miegunyah visiting professor, University of Melbourne
October - November 1995: Distinguished lecturer, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay
March 1994: California Institute of Technology
September - November 1992: Control Theory Year, IMA, University of Minnesota
June 1991: IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria
February 1989: Distinguished visiting professor, Arizona State University
July 1988: IMA, University of Minnesota
September 1986: IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria
July-August 1983: JSPS Fellow, Osaka University, Japan
March 1983: University of Southern California
Summer 1981: Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, MIT
December 1978: Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheeva, Israel
November 1975 - February 1976: Visiting Professor, ETH, Zürich
Summer 1975: University of Rome
Summer 1974: Vinton Hayes Visiting Fellow, Harvard University
January 1973: Viisting Professor, University of Florida
May 1972: IRIA, Rocquencourt, France
September 1970 - August 1971: Postdoc, University of Cambridge, UK
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Jan Willems with some of his former Ph.D. students.

>From left to right, front row: Keith Glover, Madhu Belur, Siep Weiland, Arjan van der Schaft, Henk Nijmeijer, Harry Trentelman, Jan Willem Polderman; second row: Tommaso Cotroneo, Paolo Rapisarda, Paula Rocha, Fabio Fagnani, Berend Roorda, Christiaan Heij, Tonny ten Dam.
Photograph taken on the occasion of the 60th birthday of Jan Willems on September 18, 1999.

Ph.D. dissertations supervised
Name / present position / title of doctoral dissertation / institution / year

Mathematics Genealogy
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Master's theses supervised supervised

   At the University of Groningen

   At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Go to top

Editorial activities
Founding and Managing Editor of Systems & Control Letters (1981-1994)

Editor-in-Chief of SIAM Journal on Control and Optimization (1989-1993)

Member, Editorial Board
Systems & Control Letters (1981-2009)
Acta Applicandae Mathematicae (1982-2008)
Multidimensional Systems and Signal Processing (1989-2011)
SIAM Journal on Control and Optimization (1981-2005)
Mathematics of Control, Systems, and Signal Processing (1988-1998)
Applied Mathematics and Computation (1988-1995)
Mathematical Models and Methods in Applied Science (1989-1995)
IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control (1971-1973)
Dynamics Reported (1986-1991)
Dynamics and Stability of Systems (1985-1994)
Applied Mathematics Letters (1988-1992)
Control - Theory and Advanced Technology (1985-1990)
RAIRO Automatique (1981-1987)
Annals of Systems Research (1978-1979)
Journal of Applied Science and Engineering (1975-1978)
Soviet Encyclopaedia of Mathematics - English Translation
Systems & Control: Foundations and Applications, Birkhäuser (1989-1999) (Bookseries)
Progress in Systems and Control Theory, Birkhäuser (1988-1994) (Bookseries)
Advances in Mathematics for Applied Sciences, World Publishing Co. (1989-2002) (Bookseries)
Popov special issue, European Journal of Control, 2001 (Guest editor)
Special issue on Parametrization Problems in Control, Journal of Linear Algebra and Its Applications Vol. 122/123/124, 1989 (Guest editor)
Special issue on Linear Systems,  IMA Journal of Mathematical Control and Information, Vol. 3, Nos 2/3, 1986 (Guest editor)
IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, Vol. 26, No. 4, 198, Bellman special issue (Guest associate editor)
IEEE Proceedings, Vol. 64, No. 1, 1967, Special issue on Recent Trends in System Theory (Guest associate editor)

Main activities regarding organization of conferences

Organizer (with Y. Ohta, S. Hara, and H. Fujioka) of the symposium on Systems, Control, and Signal Processing, Kyoto, Japan, March 29-31, 2010, on the occasion of the 60-th birthday of Yutaka Yamamoto

Member (with B. De Moor, P. Van Dooren, and V. Blondel) of the scientific organizing committee of the 2004 MTNS

Organizer (with J. Baillieul) of the conference Perspectives in Control, Cambridge, MA, October 23-24, 1998, on the occasion of the 60-th birthday of R.W. Brockett

Organizer (with H.L. Trentelman) of the Workshop on Control of Uncertain Systems on the occasion of the Bernoulli year, August 29 - September 1, 1995

Chairperson, Organization Committee of the 1993 European Control Conference (ECC'93) Groningen, June 28-July 1, 1993 (600 participants)

Chairperson, Organization Committee 1984 Dutch Mathematical Congress

Co-Director (with M. Hazewinkel) of the Advanced Study Institute on Stochastic Systems: The Mathematics of Filtering and Identification, Les Arcs, June 23 - July 4, 1980
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