Sergio Servetto, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, dies in plane crash

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Blaine Friedlander

Sergio Servetto, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, died July 24 in a private plane accident. He was 39.

Servetto had talked of his love of flying for many years and recently had decided to follow his dreams of having a small plane. He had purchased a small plane in Michigan and was flying it back to Ithaca when the accident occurred. He was alone in the single-engine Cessna 150, which crashed early Tuesday morning in a wooded area southeast of Keuka Lake near Bath, N.Y. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.

Servetto was born in Argentina on Jan. 18, 1968. He received a Licenciatura en Informática from the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina, in 1992 and the M.Sc. in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 1996 and 1999, respectively. He worked as a programmer for IBM in Buenos Aires from 1991 to 1994, then returned to UIUC as a graduate research assistant until 1999. From 1999 to 2001, he worked at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland. Servetto joined the Cornell faculty in the fall of 2001 as assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

His research overlapped the fields of computer science and applied mathematics, and centered around networks of small sensors that communicate wirelessly. His work combined theories of communication, typically a topic in electrical engineering, with theories of networking, typically pursued in computer science. "All of my educational and outreach activities ... are designed around the general goal of providing a solid theoretical basis to our students in networking and communications," he once wrote.

Servetto was the recipient of the 1998 Ray Ozzie Fellowship, given to "outstanding graduate students in computer science," and of the 1999 David J. Kuck Outstanding Thesis Award for the best doctoral dissertation of the year, both from the Department of Computer Science at UIUC. He was the recipient of a 2003 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which provides funding to outstanding young investigators. He was a member of the editorial board of Foundations and Trends in Networking, and was one of the guest editors for a special issue of the IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications, on the topic of Fundamental Performance Limits of Wireless Sensor Networks. Servetto was an elected member of the University Faculty Senate for 2005-08.

He was in the process of writing a book, tentatively entitled "Digital Communications over Packet-Switched Networks," and had been working for over two years on a major paper which he hoped would resolve what is known as the multi-terminal rate distortion problem, which concerns the assembling of signals from multiple sources that contain overlapping information and are sent to a common destination at different rates and with different amounts of distortion. Colleagues describe the work as an original approach to a problem of some 30 years' standing and plan to submit finished portions of it for publication in Servetto's name.

Servetto is survived by his wife, Viviana Sitz, and two young sons, Alejandro and Luciano.


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