In memoriam: David Russell, professor of mathematics in the College of Science
October 9, 2015
Editor's note: This story was updated with funeral information.
BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 7, 2015 – David L. Russell, professor of mathematics with the Virginia Tech College of Science, died Oct. 4 in Blacksburg following a brief illness. He was 76.
A funeral service is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church, 600 Prices Fork Road. Burial is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday at Westview Cemetery. There will be a reception at Luther Memorial Church's fellowship hall immediately following the burial. McCoy Funeral Home is handling the arrangements and has posted an online obituary.
"We are hoping everyone can stay for the reception despite the break between the service and the reception, which was unfortunately unavoidable due to the limited hours at the cemetery," a statement from the family said. "We are hoping we can locate some sort of microphone system that can be used at the reception for people particularly in the math community that we will not have time for in the service, as we have to limit the time of the service."
Russell’s research focused on ordinary and partial differential equations, systems theory, elasticity, mathematical modelling, and control theory. He joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1988 as a full professor having previously been on faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he started as an assistant professor in 1965. In 1968, he was promoted to associate professor. In 1972, he was promoted to professor of mathematics and electrical and computer engineering.
“Dave Russell liked to express contrarian opinions, always gently and with humor. He was a distinguished mathematician and an exceedingly humane person,” said Peter Haskell, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics. “He often stood up for an assistant professor or graduate student who was going against the grain. Due either to the power of charity or the clarity of Dave’s insight, that young mathematician often went on to achieve more than anyone but Dave expected.”
Added Lay Nam Chang, dean of the College of Science, “David was a productive and highly regarded member of our mathematics department for decades, becoming a leader and stalwart educator and scholar of the department long before the formation of the College of Science 12 years ago and until his death.”
Goong Chen, a professor of mathematics at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, earned his doctoral degree under Russell at the University of Wisconsin in 1977. Having kept in touch with Russell during the past 38 years, Chen said, “It was a privilege to be his Ph.D. student.” Chen described his mentor as “a world-renowned expert in the field of control theory of partial differential equations. … He made numerous important and fundamental contributions to this research field and won recognition as a true pioneer and giant in the field. He wrote many far reaching and influential papers, many of them ground breaking in nature. The influence of Dr. Russell’s work was overwhelming. … His research shaped to a great extent the future direction of distributed parameter control theory for decades after it was published.” Chen highlighted Russell’s work in establishing the “controllability via stabilizability principle,” which states that for a time-reversible linear control system, in infinite dimension, uniform exponential stabilizability implies its exact controllability by means of the same control mechanism.
Russell held dozens of visiting professorships and temporary appointments, including the Mathematics Research Center at the University of Wisconsin during the mid-1960s, stints at universities in England, Scotland, Poland, and France from the 1970s through the 1990s, and a workshop coordinator at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota and its Institute for Mathematics and its Applications in 1992.
Among his dozens of student-focused projects was a National Science Foundation-funded exchange program between Virginia Tech and University of Maryland, Baltimore County, with St. Petersburg State University in St. Petersburg, Russia. The grant provided funding not only for student exchange visits between the United States and Russia, but support for research into the area of harmonic analysis and control theory.
Russell published nearly 130 papers and journal articles beginning in 1964 and most recently with the 2014 publishing of the paper Modeling and Control of Hybrid Beam Systems with Rotating Tip Mass in the journal Evolution Equations and Control Theory, Vol. 3. He served as associate editor of Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications and the journal Discrete and Continuous Dynamical Systems, as well as honorary editor of the Journal of Information & Systems Sciences.
During a 40-plus year period, he also served as a consultant on various projects for Honeywell Inc., the U.S. Army, U. S. Naval Surface Weapons Center, the National Science Foundation, and served on committees with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Russell earned a bachelor’s degree from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, in 1960, and a doctoral from the University of Minnesota in 1964.
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