Feng Chen — In Memoriam

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Born on April 3rd, 1977, Feng completed his B.A. and M.S. at Peking University in 1999 and 2002, respectively, and hi Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2009, all in computer science. Feng was the recipient of the C.L. and Jane Liu Award in the Department of Computer Science at UIUC, given once a year to the most promising graduate student. His seminal work in runtime verification has been widely published, cited, and awarded. Feng was highly regarded and wil be deeply missed by all of us. May his soul rest in peace.

Feng is survived by his father Guofan Chen, his mother Yamei Wu, his brother Jun Chen, and his fiancee Gehui Zhang. Feel free to contact them, as well as Feng's Phd adviser Grigore Rosu, to express your condolences or thoughts.

Chen family address in China:

Beihuan Xi Road, #599, 1-204, Fuzhou, Fujian 350003, P.R.C.
Tel: 86-591-87832658.

Jun Chen's email address:

luke2000@21cn.com

Gehui Zhang's email address:

genui_zhang@hotmail.com

Contents

Tributes

Grigore Rosu, Feng's PhD Adviser

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Both Feng and I began our academic lives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign seven years ago, in the fall of 2002, Feng as a PhD student, I as an assistant professor.

I would like to start by taking a few moments to tell you how Feng and I met.

After moving to UIUC from NASA precisely 7 years ago, my first major task was to start a research group.

I have carefully selected Feng as my research assistant from a long list of newly admitted, not yet arrived graduate students.

I knew that my success as a new assistant professor will depend on the quality of my students, so I went through the long list many times.

I did not know whether I wanted a theoretically inclined or a practically inclined student, so I decided to pick the one who appeared to me to be the smartest on the list.

He accepted.

When we met, I was surprised to see how young he was, almost like a child.

He was my very first student.

That is how Feng and I started our --until now uninterrupted-- adventure.

Feng had very strong credentials even at that early stage in his career, having worked at the prestigious Bell Laboratories in Beijing and having published papers in top conferences, so I had no doubt that we would have a fruitful collaboration over the years to come.

We have together founded and developed a research agenda in formal methods, software engineering and programming languages -- an agenda that eventually led to the creation of the Formal Systems Laboratory (FSL).

Feng has not only been my first and dear student, but in time he has become an invaluable colleague and eventually a very good friend, one whose opinion I always asked when important decisions had to be taken in our group.

Next I would like to say a few words about Feng's work.

Feng's seminal work in runtime verification serves as a scientific foundation that challenged several research groups around the world.

For example, his work on parametric trace slicing and monitoring turned out to lead to systems that can verify their own executions at runtime with a runtime overhead lower than 10%, which significantly outperformed existing similar systems.

Also, Feng's work on sliced causality and predictive runtime analysis has lead to systems whose predictive power exceeded by far that of other existing systems.

Feng was the first researcher to give a formal rewriting logic semantics to a real-life programming language, Java.

He did that in only three weeks, as part of a class project, which reminds me of one of those moments when Feng impressed me with his talent and ambition.

The students taking my class on programming language semantics were given as project to define formally the executable semantics of a simple paradigmatic imperative language.

Feng came to me after the class and said that that language is too simple, he would like to define a more complex language, like Java.

I asked him whether he is aware of what he is getting into, but he bravely took the challenge and ... he did it!

Several other colleagues in our department and in other parts of the world are using Feng formal definition of Java as an important component in their research.

Feng's research accomplishments have been published and presented in the best international conferences.

In fact, Feng's Curriculum Vitae speaks by itself: Feng has published more than twenty high quality papers in top conferences such as ICSE, OOPSLA, CAV, TACAS, ASE, SAS, etc.

Although he already had so many papers, Feng was always happy like a child when one of his papers was accepted, getting unlimited energy to move on to the next idea, next paper, next project.

This reminds me of a morning in 2007, when he learned that his paper was accepted to OOPSLA'07. He was so excited, that he wanted to meet right away.

He could not wait until early afternoon when I was planning to go to office: he jumped in his car and drove to my place, where we spent a couple of hours sharing our happiness and discussing the reviewer reports.

That is how excited Feng was about his work and how I will always remember him: with a smile on his face and sparkling eyes.

As you well know, good conference papers generate journal papers.

We were in the middle of finalizing several such journal papers, which will be finalized nevertheless, with Feng as first author.

Feng would certainly be very happy to know that yesterday morning he received an invitation from the organizers of TACAS'09 to submit an extended version of his paper to a special issue of a journal dedicated to the best papers presented at TACAS'09 in Spring 2009.

In spite of all his achievements in such a short time, Feng was not a workaholic! He did what he did by pure talent and wisdom in choosing and doing the right things.

In addition to work, he found time to have fun, to travel, to cook and, especially, to play soccer; a lot of soccer.

Feng's research accomplishments have been rewarded both by colleagues directly interested in his work and by the Department of Computer Science of our university interested in rewarding the best students in all areas: Feng has obtained the ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award for his paper in the ASE 2008 conference, and the C.L. and Jane Liu Award offered once a year to a most promising graduate student in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This tragic event saddens us even deeper when we think of the bright future that Feng had in front of him.

Early this year Feng interviewed and accepted a tenure-track assistant professor position in the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University.

We know how hard that is these days. Only a few universities could afford to hire this year, due to the shrink in funding generated by the economical recession.

After depositing this thesis in mid-August 2009, Feng's plan was to move to Iowa to start his career as a Professor.

Moreover, Feng, Pat and myself co-founded a start-up company, targeted at further developing and eventually commercializing the technologies initiated by Feng during his doctoral studies.

His professorship position at a very good university, together with his software company co-founder status, put Feng in an elite category of computer scientists, comprising no more than a handful of such distinguished professionals.

Feng's sudden death has generated shock-waves both in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois and in the scientific community.

Uncountably many messages have been received from colleagues and friends all over the world, expressing their sorrows for the unbelievable loss.

No matter how big the loss of Feng is to the scientific community and his friends, it cannot be compared to the loss of a son, a brother, and a fiancee.

Feng's numerous colleagues, professors, friends, and myself, convey our condolences to Feng's father Guofan Chen, to Feng's mother Yamei Wu, to Feng's brother Jun Chen, and to Feng's fiancee Gehui Zhang.

Feng was highly regarded and he will be deeply missed by all of us.

May his soul rest in peace.


Jose Meseguer, Feng's PhD Thesis Committee Member

Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I myself feel a great loss for having lost Feng because, first of all, he was a great human being, with a great sense of warmth and friendship and generosity.

Feng was one of the most brilliant graduate students we had in the department who has made fundamental contributions to software engineering and applied formal methods.

He had a great career ahead of him and it is a great loss for all of us. I feel very much inspired by his humanity and his scholarship.

We should cherish his example and his memory and keep it dear in our hearts and our minds.

Lui Sha, Feng's PhD Thesis Committee Member

Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Feng Chen was a brilliant young researcher and a dear colleague.

I had the opportunity to work with Feng on a project and deeply impressed by his intellect and enthusiasm. He had a way with people that made them feel comfortable around him and want to work with him.

To say Feng was smart is an understatement. He was invited to be an intern at Microsoft Research several times and was a recipient of the prestigious the C.L. and Jane Liu Award in our department, and was a recipient of the ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award for his paper 2008.

We know how difficult is to find a faculty job in recent years, due to the worst financial storm since the great depression. Yet Feng was offered a tenure-track assistant professor position in the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University.

Feng dedicated himself to new ideas, bold projects and great innovations that will better our world. He has accomplished so much in so short a time.

He will be deeply missed.


Darko Marinov, Feng's PhD Thesis Committee Member

Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I am very sorry that we lost Feng. He was young, enthusiastic, and full of life. When I heard the sad news about his death, I was so shocked that I couldn't find proper words in English.

He was a friendly and unassuming person, and a very productive student. It was always my pleasure to interact with him, and it was an honor to serve on his PhD thesis committee.

The results of his research will be lasting, but he will be greatly missed.


Wolfram Schulte, Feng's PhD Thesis Committee Member

Research in Software Engineering Area Manager, Microsoft Research Redmond

It is with great sorrow and pain that I have heard the news about Feng's sudden death.

I have known Feng since summer 2005, when my team at Microsoft Research invited Feng to join us for a three month internship, where we collaborated on automated specification inference.

During this time I learned to appreciate Feng's capabilities. He was a creative and passionate researcher, who took on and mastered new challenges everywhere he went. He was strong in theory as well as in system building, a capability that only few people have.

But we are not only researchers, first and foremost we are humans. Here is how I will ever remember Feng in this regard: He always had a smile on his face, in fact, I have seen again and again that he spread good mood everywhere he went, he talked to everyone no matter what background or heritage, he could have fun and when being asked for anything, he couldn't say no. He was socially responsible, reliable and trustworthy. Feng became not only a colleague, he became a friend.

So when Grigore and Feng asked me to become his co-adviser on his PhD I happily joined in. I met him for his PhD defense just a few weeks ago. I still have his PhD in my bag. We talked about his future plans, which looked so exciting at the time, and which would allow us to come together again. We will all miss him greatly.

Please accept our deepest sympathy at the loss of Feng Chen.


Patrick Meredith, colleague and close research collaborator of Feng

PhD Student, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Recently, we have all heard about Feng's extensive achievements as a researcher.

I first met Feng as a TA for CS 105 in 2006, we were in different research groups at the time. He always seemed to have the easiest solution for any problem we had, in the class. When I started working with Grigore, I was excited to get the chance to work with Feng as well.

As an author, I do not know where I would be without Feng. I had always fancied myself a decent writer, but Feng helped mold me. He taught me where emphasis is necessary to grab a reviewers attention, while I would always be bogged down in technical details. I will always remember the hours I have spent modifying a paper to his specifications. Often I would receive a PDF copy of our current paper, filled with strikeouts and notes from Feng. Usually, he would strike-through all of a sentence save a word or two, and I would be left to figure out how to make an intelligible sentence out of the remaining few words. He always seemed to approve of whatever I came up with, with his customary smile.

As a researcher, Feng always made me feel better about my ideas. He always had kind words and encouragement. On many occasions I would find problems in our work that I could not quite express in a way for everyone in the group to see, but Feng always understood what I meant. He understood me when no one else could, and agreed with me when I needed it most.

Feng would always listen to my personal problems, as a friend, and like in everything else, he always knew the best solution. Words cannot encompass everything Feng means to me.


Dongyun Jin, colleague and close research collaborator of Feng

PhD Student, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I remember Feng Chen as my mentor.

When I entered to FSL in fall 2007, he gave me many advices personally. At that time, Feng Chen and I were the only asians in our group. He said he wanted to help me because we are from the same area.

However I knew that it was just an excuse to make me feel more comfortable. He was a guy who would help anyone no matter wherever he/she is from.

He helped me to speak out in the group although I still need more.

He helped me to figure out our research area. Basically he helped me to stand up on my own two feet in this group, in this research area.

Me and Feng Chen have been working together on the same project from fall 2007 to the last moment.

I even remember the last meeting we had in the morning of the 6th of August. We discussed about some new features of JavaMOP, our project. As usual, he provided us some examples to understand easily.

He corrected us when the meeting was going wrong. He was like another professor in our group.

I'll remind myself all his advices and follow them to be a good researcher.

I'll always miss him and thank him a lot.


Traian Florin Serbanuta, colleague and collaborator of Feng

PhD Student, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I know Feng since I came to the University of Illinois, 5 years ago. Nevertheless, when he told us earlier this year that he got a job at Iowa State University, I did not feel sad, but rather glad, because I knew how much he wanted to spread his wings and try this new world. That is why I'm two times more sad now, knowing that he left both us and his bright future.

What I admired most in Feng was not his outstanding research performance, but rather his human nature, his sense of balance, and his harmonious way of being.

I remember that at one of our early encounters, Feng was presenting something in our group, and I thought his talk was full of rhythm, almost like in reciting a poem. I found it funny then, but with the time I realized that was really the way he was and begun appreciating him for that.

Although most of the time I was working on other projects than Feng, I always enjoying taking part in the meetings for the projects Feng was part of, inviting myself in to share the enthusiasm that always seemed to surround them.

Maybe this is how we actually got to work together on a couple projects, and I know I enjoyed every minute of it.

To say we were friends, I wouldn't dare... but I truly admired him, both research-wise, and more important, as a person; and I know I will really miss him.

May God rest his soul in peace.


Eric Bodden, close collaborator who dedicated his PhD thesis to Feng

Post-doctor, TU Darmstadt, Germany

Message before memorial at UIUC

I still emailed with Feng a few weeks ago. I was always looking forward to meeting him again after my stay at Champaign.

Clearly Feng was one of the most successful fellow researchers in the field, but after our meeting in Champaign I also considered him a good personal friend of mine.

I wish to express my sincere condolences to you, but especially to Feng's family and his fiancee, who I also met when I was at Champaign.

I will dedicate my dissertation to Feng (to be published by the end of this year). Feng is certainly the person who contributed most to the final design of the framework that I present there. It will be difficult to go ahead from there without him.

Message after the memorial at UIUC

I know that is little consolation, but we can all be sure that Feng's memory will never be forgotten.

Even in his too short life he had already made his mark in history.

And what your department head said is true: it is good to know that during the short time Feng had, he did what he enjoyed most. Not many people can say that of themselves.

I know that is going to hurt for a while but I hope that after a while we will all think back of Feng in the form of many good and happy memories.

I am also sure that Feng's mother's wish will not be forgotten.

It will be hard for others to pick up where Feng left - Feng clearly excelled at what he did.

Nevertheless Feng's research did set important foundations for the work of many, including my own, and to me it is at least a little consolation that Feng's memory will live on in the work we do.


Condolence Messages

received by Grigore Rosu, Feng's PhD advisor

Amir Pnueli, Turing awardee

Professor, Department of Computer Science, New York University

I was very saddened and stricken by the untimely and sudden death of Feng Chen.

Please accept my personal condolences.


Ilesanmi Adesida, Dean

Willett Professor, College of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This is most unfortunate; this happening on what would have been a most satisfying end to his PhD years. This is a loss to the department, his adviser, college and above all, his family.

My sympathy goes to his family and may his soul rest in peace.


Roy Campbell, Graduate Director

Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

What sad news. That must be terrible for his parents. Please convey the department's expression of sympathy to them. Perhaps you could keep me notified of the funeral.

I would like to get your views of what the department should do as an expression of support and sympathy. This is the first time this sort of thing has happened while I have been Grad director. Let me know what would help you, your other students and his parents.


Ram Prasad Venkatesan, former FSL colleague and coauthor of Feng

Microsoft Redmond

This is an extreme shock to me. I am very shocked to hear this. I still remember the wonderful times we spent with him, all those wonderful conversations, and these are memories that I shall cherish.

I sincerely pray to God to give his family the strength to deal with this loss.


Carl Chang, Chair of the department where Feng was expected to be a Professor

Department of Computer Science, Iowa State University

I am sadded to learn about the loss of Feng Chen - to you, to UIUC, and the entire community.


Tao Xie

Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, North Carolina State University

I am very sad and shocked to learn this terrible news!

Life is so fragile. Feng poked me in the MSN messenger just a couple days ago telling me that he would like to chat with me more when I had time ...


Azadeh Farzan, former colleague and coauthor of Feng

Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto

This is the saddest news I have heard in a long while, and a huge loss.

He was a great guy.

My condolences.


Baris Aktemur, former colleague of Feng

Assistant Professor, Ozyegin University, Turkey


PKU graduate school classmates

Jinyu Li, Xin Liu, Wei Jiang, Guoling Han, Qingda Lu, Jianchun Fan, Lixia Liu, and Chengliang Zhang

We are very very sad to heard about the news about our former classmate, Feng Chen. We were in the same class in Peking University during 1999-2002.

Feng, we miss you as a dear friend and classmate. Those happy days we spent together will be forever in our hearts. May you rest in peace.


Sarfraz Khurshid

Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin

Feng's passing away is so sad and tragic.

I pray his family and friends have the strength to cope with such a huge loss.


David Lo

Assistant Professor, School of Information Systems, Singapore Management University

It's hard to imagine that Feng is no longer with us.... I just had lunch with him two weeks ago, we had a nice chat, and he looked perfectly healthy then.

I'm saddened to hear the shocking news. He would be greatly missed by many. I hope his family would be able to be strong during this turbulent time.


Insup Lee

Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Pennsylvania

I am very saddened to hear the tragic news. My deep condolences to his family.


Klaus Havelund

Senior Research Scientist (SRS), Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA

I am very sorry to hear this.

It is a very young age to suffer from a heart attack.

This is terrible news.

It is hard to imagine what his parents must feel at this moment.


Oleg Sokolsky

Research Associate Professor, Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania

Sorry to hear the bad news.

It is indeed a huge loss to the RV community.

My sincere condolences to Feng's family and collaborators.


Ann Gates

Associate Vice President of Research, Office of Research and Sponsored Projects, The University of Texas at El Paso

I would like to extend my deepest sympathy.

Although I did not know him personally, it is clear that the community lost an extraordinary and talented young researcher.

May God Bless him and his loved ones.


Chen Ding

Associate Professor, Computer Science Department, University of Rochester

How unfortunate.

I exchanged emails with him before.

He was always very helpful.

I hope someone would put together an obituary page so people can gather his stories to memorize such a brilliant mind and character.


Marco Caccamo

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

I am shocked to learn that!

So young and such an outstanding student.

We will remember Feng: the all department is in shock.


Michael Ernst

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Washington

I'm very sorry to hear the news.

Best wishes to all of Feng's family and friends.


Chandra Checkuri

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This is indeed a shocking and very sad news.

My sincere condolences to his family and to you.


Eyal Amir

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This is terrible news.

I'm very sorry to hear this.

My real heartfelt condolences to you and your students and Feng's family.

This is indeed horrible.

We should hold a departmental memorial for him.


Indranil Gupta

Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This is incredibly sad - he had so much promise!

My condolences are with him and his family, but also with you for the loss of such a talent.


Kevin Chen

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Very sad to hear the shocking news.

My sympathy. Please convey my condolence to the family.


Madhusudan Parthasarathy

Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This is very sad.

Please convey my condolences to Feng's family.


Mike Katelman, colleague

PhD student, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

I was extremely sad to hear about Feng.

Clearly he had both a robust work and personal life, and will be missed.


Nitin Vaidya

Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This is a really sad news.

I did not know Feng Chen personally, but from your description, he was clearly a talented student.

I just now visited his webpage, and I am quite amazed by his productivity.

My deepest condolences.


Ravishankar Iyer

Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

I am profoundly sorry to hear of this tragic news.

If you can, please convey our deepest condolences and both from the university and on my own behalf.

We are all deeply appreciative of what he accomplished in a short time.


Shobha Vasudevan

Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

I have met Feng a few times.

I am very sorry for your and Feng's family's loss.

I hope he rests in peace.


Tarek Abdelzaher

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This is indeed a shock.

Very sorry to hear that and my condolences to the friends, colleagues and family.

It's hard to accept that someone that young would suddenly go this way.


Vikram Adve

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

I'm stunned to hear this.

I didn't know Feng personally but his name came up several times for the top awards in the Student Awards Committee and I know he was one of our most outstanding students.

It must be a huge personal and professional shock to you.

And I cannot even imagine what his parents are going through.

Please convey our heartfelt condolences to them.


Santiago Escobar

Assistant Professor, Departamento de Sistemas Informáticos y Computación, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain

I am very sorry for the sudden death of Feng Chen.


William Cheng-Chung Chu

Dean of Engineering College, Prof. of Dept. of Computer Science, Tunghai University, Taiwan

My deep condolence!!

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