Vince Poor, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Ben Franklin, John Anderson, connections and the Industrial Revolution

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Vince Poor, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Ben Franklin, John Anderson, connections and the Industrial Revolution

By Tariq S Durrani
2010-2011 IEEE Vice President for Educational Activities
2012-2013 Vice President (International) Royal Society of Edinburgh, and
1994-1995 President IEEE Signal Processing Society


20 May 2013 was a key event in the calendar of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), when the newly elected Fellows were ‘inducted’; i.e. when the newly elected Fellows formally joined the Society through a Ceremony overseen over by the RSE President (Sir John Arbuthnott).The Royal Society of Edinburgh is the National Academy of Scotland for science and letters. Each year the Society elects a small number of individuals highly distinguished in their fields as Fellows of the Society.

There are three categories of Fellows elected each year –Honorary Fellows, usually of the status of Nobel Laureates or equivalents; Corresponding Fellows, usually international authorities in their fields;  and Fellows who are normally based in Scotland and who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields.

This year Vince Poor, distinguished member of the IEEE Signal Processing Society and Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Princeton, was inducted as a Corresponding Fellow of the RSE, for his distinguished contributions to communication theory, signal processing and allied fields. His contributions include:  a fundamental theory of robust filtering and detection, the co-development of multi-user detection, numerous innovations in signal detection and the introduction of several novel techniques for signal processing. The election to the Fellowship also recognized his contributions to electrical engineering education through his celebrated teaching and mentoring, to both students in his own field, and more broadly to students across the disciplines.  As the Founding Director of Princeton’s Keller Center, and now as Dean of its Engineering School at Princeton, his leadership has helped expand both the disciplinary reach of engineering at Princeton and its inter-disciplinary character.

Vince follows in the footsteps of highly distinguished Corresponding Fellows of the RSE who have revolutionised the world. Interestingly, the first ever Foreign Fellow elected by the Royal Society of Edinburgh was Benjamin Franklin in 1783.

This historical fact has immense relevance to the IEEE. It was Franklin’s discovery of electrical conduction phenomenon, through his experiment of flying a kite in the clouds that revolutionised the study of electricity, and the consequent development of the field of electrical engineering.

Note the IEEE logo includes a diamond shape that represents Franklin’s kite, thus commemorating his famous experiment.

Another interesting connection is worth mentioning - Ben Franklin visited Scotland on a number of occasions in the seventeen fifties, where he met, amongst others, John Anderson, a Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.

John Anderson, no doubt influenced by Franklin’s liberal thinking, his own experiential flair, and observations on the need for trained men (and women) with practical bent in the Enlightenment, left funds in his will to support the establishment of ‘ a place of useful learning’. This legacy led to the creation of Anderson’s Institution, in 1796, which is a direct precursor of the University of Strathclyde, named 2012-2013 UK university of the Year, where I now work.

A further link is worth recounting, John Anderson had a very practical technician, called James Watt, working for him, when he was a Professor at the University of Glasgow.  Professor Anderson asked James Watt to look for a solution to the problem of steam boilers that had a tendency to blow up under pressure.

James Watt invented a mechanism to release the pressure in the boilers through a piston and valve arrangement that led to the development of the steam engine that augured the Industrial Revolution, and as they say, the rest is History.


20 May 2013 at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Tariq Durrani, Vince Poor and Sir Michael Atiyah, Past President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, on the occasion of the induction of Vince Poor as Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Sir Michael is one of the most celebrated mathematicians of the 20th Century, Field Medallist and winner of the Able Prize –the Nobel Prize equivalent for Mathematics.



20 May 2013 Tariq Durrani, Sir John Arbuthnott, President Royal Society of Edinburgh and Vince Poor, Dean of Engineering Princeton University, on the occasion of the induction of Vince Poor as Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh




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