Linda Petzold Named Inaugural Mehrabian Chair

Monday, June 11, 2018

Linda Petzold, professor of computer science and mechanical engineering, has been installed as the inaugural Mehrabian Endowed Chair in the UC Santa Barbara College of Engineering (CoE). The endowed chair was established through a generous gift from Robert and Victoria Mehrabian, longtime friends and benefactors of UCSB. As dean from 1983 to 1990, Dr. Mehrabian transformed and expanded the college and, in 1987, established the Materials Department in partnership with A. G. Evans, the department’s first chair. Mehrabian’s vision catalyzed a collaborative environment for faculty and advanced the college to international prominence. 

“I am deeply honored to be the recipient of the Mehrabian Endowed Chair in the College of Engineering, particularly because Robert Mehrabian played such a central role in developing the College of Engineering at UCSB into the world-class institution that it is today,” Petzold said.

At a special event held last month to honor Professor Petzold’s selection, she presented a talk titled “Accelerating Scientific Progress and Technology Development.” In it, she noted some of her group’s contributions to what she described as “the vast infrastructure of mathematics, statistics, computational algorithms, and computing technologies that enables us to see what cannot be seen or directly measured, and to understand, predict, and control the consequences of highly complex processes and to discover the information hidden in noisy data." In addition, CoE dean, Rod Alferness; Computer Science chair, Matthew Turk; and Mechanical Engineering chair, Frederic Gibou, recounted her many achievements during two decades on the UCSB faculty. 

“Linda’s accomplishments and her renown as a computer scientist are off the charts,” Turk said this month. “She has made pioneering contributions to the field on a range of impactful topics, including numerical analysis, computational systems biology, and cell network structures. Her numerous important honors and awards are extremely well deserved, and her work is a prime example of the importance of computational approaches in the practice of science. Linda is a wonderful colleague, leader, and role model in the CS department.”

Petzold is unique in that she is an applied mathematician who has developed mathematical models in numerous areas of science and engineering, who also develops technologies (methods) for computation. “That’s how I fit into computer science,” she says. 

"Linda has had a large impact in the field of computational science through her work on differential algebraic equations and discrete stochastic simulation,” Gibou adds. “She has used those algorithms to impact several subfields of mechanical engineering, especially in the study of semi-conductors and systems biology.”

Petzold’s Computational Science and Engineering Research Group has developed advanced algorithms for discrete stochastic (random) simulation of systems in which the fate of a few key molecules can make a big difference to important outcomes. The group engages with experimentalists through data analysis and by developing mathematical models that yield insights and suggest new directions for research.

Current collaborations are underway in the fields of biology (circadian rhythm — i.e. jet lag —and cell polarization), medicine (coagulopathy), ecology (fungal-caused chytrid disease in frogs), neuroscience, and materials. 

Petzold is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She received the Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software in 1991, the Dahlquist Prize in 1999, the SIAM/ACM Prize for Computational Science and Engineering in 2013, the SIAM Prize for Distinguished Service to the Profession in 2016, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Uppsala University in 2015.

At UCSB, in addition to her appointments in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science, Petzold is affiliated with the Department of Mathematics; the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies; the Center for Multiscale Analysis, Software and Simulation; the Center for Bioengineering; the Center for Control, Dynamical Systems & Computation; and the Center for Information Technology and Society.

Petzold was born and raised in Chicago and earned both her PhD (Computer Science, 1978) and her BA (Mathematics and Computer Science, 1974) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Prior to arriving at UCSB in 1997, she was professor of computer science at the University of Minnesota, group leader for the Numerical Mathematics Group at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and a member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California.

Linda Petzold

Professor Linda Petzold