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Gene F. Franklin

For fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of digital, modern, adaptive, and multivariable control and for being a mentor, inspiration and friend to five decades of graduate students

Gene F. Franklin received the Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1950 the Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1952, and the Doctor of Engineering Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University in 1955. He was appointed Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University from 1955-1957 and has been on the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University since 1957 where he is now Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus. He was Vice Chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering from 1989-1994 and was Chairman of the Department for the 1994-1995 He was Director of the Information Systems Laboratory from its founding in 1962 until 1971 and was Associate Provost for Computing for Stanford University from 1971-1975.

He is co-author of three books: Sampled Data Systems, Digital Control of Dynamic Systems and Feedback Control of Dynamic Systems. The Second Edition of the last of these books received the IFAC prize as the best book in the controls area published during the period 1987-1990; the fifth edition is now in preparation. Professor Franklin has supervised the research of over 60 Ph.D. candidates in many aspects of control and systems.

He has for many years been an active member of the IEEE. He joined as a Student Member in April, 1950, and became a Life Fellow of the Institute in January, 1993. He was on the Board of Directors of the CSS from 1982 until 1988 and was Vice President for Technical Affairs for 1985 and 1986. He was General Chairman of the JACC of 1964 and General Chairman of the CDC in 1984. He received the Ragazzini Education Award of the AACC for 1985,.and gave the Bode Lecture at the1994 CDC. He is a Distinguished Member of the CSS and Franklin and Abramovitch were awarded the prize for the best paper published in the CSM in 2003. for their review of the control of disk drives.

Text of Acceptance Speech: 

June 9, 2005. Portland, OR

'Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be'

I don't feel particularly old but to be in the midst of friends and colleagues with this recognition is as good as it gets.

I'd like to use these few minutes to comment on several of the times when I've come to a fork in the road as an illustration of how difficult it is to predict how a given path will turn out. There may be people who plan their lives carefully and take each step based on the best prediction of a good outcome; I'm not one of them. Too many events in my life were based on random events to pretend that they were based on any good planning of mine.

My first decision was a good one: I selected outstanding parents. My father was a math teacher, my mother an RN and they gave me a love of books and learning that have served me well for over 7 decades. They did, however, make one mistake: they gave me a defective gene that prevents me from seeing colors the way most others see them. If you see me going Ooh and Ah over a rainbow, don't believe it; I'm faking it.

The next decision I wish to mention was in 1945 when I became eligible for the military draft. The good news was that I was admitted to the Navy Radio Technician program but the bad news was that I had to sign up for four years to accept the offer. The evidence was that the war would last several more years so I signed up. That decision did not look so good a few weeks later when President Truman approved use of atomic bombs to reduce Hiroshima to rubble and Nagasaki to ruin in a matter of seconds. The war ended soon after but I was still stuck with four years obligation to the Navy. When I got to Chicago for my final physical, one of the doctors asked me to identify the numbers in a set of circles filled with colored dots. I'm sure that I gave him some values never before found! My performance was such that he marked me as partially disabled, put me on medical special assignment, and sent me off to the electronics school.

I finished the school in the summer of 1946 and was selected to be an instructor at a new campus being set up at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. I taught electronic amplifiers there using the book Radio Engineering by F E Terman. One of my fellow students there later became well known in the control field (and a Vice President of IBM): Jack Bertram had also signed up for the Navy electronics program. In the early summer of 1947 my defective gene came to my rescue. The Navy announced that any sailor on medical special assignment was eligible for discharge! My response: That's ME.

Out of the Navy I went and set about looking for a school that would accept me at that late date. I was turned down by several fine schools but Georgia Tech told me to come on down so off I went to Atlanta where I got my EE degree in 1950. The months I'd served in the Navy made me eligible for enough GI Bill support to pay the tuition and expenses which I could never have afforded otherwise. This time the bad news was that in the spring of 1950 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the country was to graduate twice as many engineers as the economy could absorb. My only choice was to accept a fellowship to MIT and continue my education using the last of my GI Bill of Rights tuition support. As an aside, while there I took a graduate course on pulse and timing circuits that contained little new from what we had learned in the Navy program as high school graduates! I also had a great time learning how to play rugby from a group of graduate students from South Africa. A most memorable part of this experience was when we were one of the teams selected to play in a tournament as the entertainment for spring break in Bermuda.

After finishing my MS in 1952 I had married the love of my life and needed to get a job. A fellow student introduced me to Professor Jack Millman who was visiting MIT looking for possible appointments to Columbia University. I interviewed with him and was offered a position as Instructor which involved teaching responsibilities but allowed me to study for the doctorate at the same time. I had no idea that I was stepping into a fantastic center of control research assembled by John Ragazzini. With his colleague Lotfi Zadeh he had attracted great students including Eli Jury, Art Bergen, Jack Bertram, Rudy Kalman, Bernie Friedland, George Kranc, and Phil Sarachik. Sampled Data control was never the same again. The first treatment of 'pulsed circuits' was chapter 5 by Hurewicz in the Rad Lab Vol. 25 on The Theory of Servomechanisms edited by James Nichols and Phillips. Hurewicz selected the variable of discrete transforms as z, a prediction of one period and we kept the same convention. At about the time as Ragazzini's group were starting our study, some at MIT selected z to be a delay operator. In the end, z as predictor prevailed but to this day MATLAB treats discrete transforms differently in the Signal Processing toolbox as they do in the Control toolbox. You can look it up.

After I got my degree in 1955 I was promoted to Assistant Professor. I loved Columbia and was pleased to be selected by Professor Ragazzini to join him as co-author of a book on sampled data but New York City left a lot to be desired as a place to raise the two children who had joined my family by this time and soon another fork in the road appeared. It was presented in the person of Professor John Linvill whose class I had taken at MIT and who had moved from MIT to Stanford by way of Bell Labs. John knew Lotfi Zadeh and at his invitation came to Columbia looking for possible new appointments to Stanford's faculty. Again I interviewed and was offered a position on the Stanford Faculty. Thus it was that in late May of 1957 we loaded up the (non air-conditioned) Ford and headed west. I'll never forget the hot day in June when we stopped for gas in Sacramento where the temperature was well over 100 degrees. The pavement was so soft my shoes sank into the asphalt. Then later that day we crossed the mountains into the Bay Area and the temperature dropped about 1 degree per mile for the last 30 miles. We've been in love with the San Francisco Bay area ever since.

As an aside comment on control at the time, in the paper on The history of the Society by Danny Abramovitch and myself, George Axelby is quoted as saying that papers presented at the 1959 conference on control by Kalman and Bertram using state notation were 'quite a mystery to most attendees.' I'd say that the idea of state was not long a mystery to those who had worked with analog computers. On those machines, the only dynamic elements are integrators whose outputs comprise the state quite naturally. In my opinion, every control engineer should be required to program an analog computer where one also quickly learns the value of amplitude and time scaling too.

In any case, such was the random walk through time and space that has taken me from the mountains of North Carolina to the coast of California. My tenure at Stanford has been marked by many things but first and foremost in my affection has been the steady stream of excellent students with whom I have been privileged to work. Without a doubt they have made major contributions to control and to them is owed much of the credit for which this award in made. So let me close with the moral of my story aimed mainly to those in academia:

You can never be too careful when selecting your students.
The corollary to this is applicable to everyone:
It's hard to soar like an Eagle if you fly with a bunch of turkeys.

Thank you very much.