Valedictorian Sinha Discovers an Inspiration in Questions of Balance


The inverted pendulum problem consists of programming a robot to perform like a plate spinner at a circus, making all the small corrections necessary to balance a thin stick perfectly upright. It was an inspiration that was developed by Princeton senior Aman Sinha.

“You can push the pendulum, and it swings back as the computer compensates,” he said. “It almost seems like the computer is alive.”

Sinha was motivated by the obscure fusion and reaction needed to balance out the teetering pendulum. The urge to take this difficult challenge, uncover it’s ingenious solution, has enabled him to propel to the top of his class.

The intricate merger of motion and reaction needed to balance the teetering pendulum brought to bear Sinha’s every enthusiasm for engineering and mathematics. That desire to tackle difficult problems, to uncover the most elegant solution, has helped propel him to the top of his class. A mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Ivyland, Pa., Sinha is the valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2013 and would present an intense speech to the University’s Commencement on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.

“The motions you go through to design the solution gave me the insight of how everything fit together,” Sinha said. “It was a general approach to attacking any problem — here is how we step back and look at a problem regardless of where it came from.”

Sinha and the professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Clarence Rowley, demonstrated a low-tech version on the experiment involving the pendulum. left, and Sinha, a classic engineering problem that Rowley recalls “is like balancing a ruler on your hand.” For Sinha, the “pendulum problem” aman_sinha_clarence_rowleydrove and inspired his passion for engineering and mathematics.

“It is a case where there is a fairly involved amount of math that you have to do to arrive at a solution,” said Rowley. “But when you work through it, and see it actually work, it’s great. It’s really exciting to see it pan out. I think it really resonated with Aman.”

Focusing on Sinha’s friendly and easygoing temperament, he describes the difficulty of math of control systems as “really cool,” is a formidable intellect. Naomi Leonard, Sinha’s senior thesis adviser, reflected on how he solved every problem set in her course on modern control theory on a loose leaf of paper.
When the moment presented itself for him to present his thesis to Leonard’s research group, Sinha sketched a great amount of equations and pictures on the board and spoke for close to an hour, all aided from his own memory.

“The material that Aman presented on the board covered dozens of pages from his thesis work and was so carefully explained,” said Leonard, the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “This kind of presentation without detailed notes is more typical of an accomplished graduate student.”

For more on Aman Sinha, click here.


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