Illustration by Lauren Martin

20/20 Vision

Twenty things you should know about the last two decades at USC Viterbi, since Andrew and Erna Viterbi's $52 million naming gift in 2004.

What’s that crashing sound? It’s the glass ceiling being shattered. In 2019, for the first time, women made up 50% of the entering undergraduate class at USC Viterbi. That was up from 30% in 2011 — quite an accomplishment in the traditionally male-dominated STEM universe. Similarly, the number of women faculty has grown 437% over the past two decades.



Reflecting USC Viterbi’s commitment to change the conversation about engineering, who we are, what we do and how we look, the number of Black undergraduate students has more than doubled since the Viterbi gift, while the number of Latinx undergrads has more than tripled.



USC Viterbi is one of few schools of engineering with advisory boards based in China and India. The iPodia Alliance, a paradigm for 21st-century higher education and a global consortium of 17 leading universities, engenders academic cooperation and collaboration between connected classrooms across the globe, with students from USC Viterbi and China, India, Greece, Uganda, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Australia and Taiwan, among others.



With USC Viterbi’s growing reputation for excellence, the school’s acceptance rate today is less than is 10%. Similarly, the number of first-year applicants surged from about 3,500 applicants in fall 2004 to more than 15,000 this year.




USC Viterbi’s growth over the past two decades has led to the construction of several world-class facilities. Ronald Tutor Hall, a five-story building that accommodates undergraduate and graduate studies in information technology, bioengineering and nanotechnology, opened in 2005. The USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, the largest academic building on the University Park campus, opened it 2017. The Baum Family Maker Space, a design and fabrication center for use by undergraduate students, launched in 2021. And the 116,000-square-foot Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Human-Centered Computation Hall, which opens this year, will integrate all our computer science programs and house the newly named Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science.




As far as 20 years go, it doesn’t get much better than what computer scientist Shang-Hua Teng accomplished. He won the prestigious Gödel Prize in theoretical computer science in 2008 and 2015 for work that proved to be fundamental for modeling and analyzing practical algorithms, and that led to breakthroughs in network analysis, matrix computation and optimization.




It took little more than a second to capture the image, but tech whizzes at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies created the first realistic 3D print bust of former President Barack Obama. USC’s Light Stage system team notched this accomplishment in 2014. Their work lives forever, as well, in such Hollywood blockbusters as “Avatar,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Maleficent.” This being Hollywood, USC Viterbi has also won two Emmy Awards and three Oscars.




ChatGPT, which debuted in November 2022, could have written the following: Niki Parmar and Ashish Vaswani, former researchers at the USC Information Sciences Institute, co-wrote a 2017 research paper, “Attention Is All You Need,” that proved to be foundational for the wildly popular AI technology that has created a paradigm shift in artificial intelligence and natural language processing.




In 2009, USC Viterbi co-created and launched the National Academy of Engineering Global Grand Challenges Scholars Program, an education model to prepare engineers to be world changers. The program has since been implemented at more than 122 universities in the United States and 33 overseas. The program won the 2022 Gordon Prize of the National Academy of Engineering. And in an unprecedented second year in a row, USC won the Gordon Prize in 2023, for systems engineering pioneer Azad Madni’s transdisciplinary systems engineering innovation.




USC Viterbi faculty members have won a raft of prestigious awards since the engineering school’s naming. Ten have been named MIT TR-35 recipients since 2009 (with two additional students also earning this distinction); 28 have been named to the National Academy of Engineering since 2004; and 79 have won NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Awards during the same period. The school has raised 60 endowed chairs at various levels.




Over the past 20 years, USC Viterbi has raised more than $1 billion in philanthropic support, including support for several department namings. They include the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Alfred E. Mann Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science.




In 2011, Kevin Knight, professor of computer science, broke the code of the 75,000-character “Copiale Cipher,” a mysterious manuscript written in abstract symbols and Roman letters that reveals the rituals and political leanings of an 18th-century secret society in Germany. Sounds like the makings of a Tom Hanks or Nicolas Cage movie.




Before Google or NASA got into the game, there was the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center, or QCC, the first operational quantum computing system in academia (2011), led by Daniel Lidar, holder of the Viterbi Professorship in Engineering.




In 2017, the American Society for Engineering Education awarded USC Viterbi the ASEE President’s Award, the first such honor for USC and one of few ever bestowed on an engineering school. USC Viterbi received the honor for leading a diversity initiative that more than 200 deans have signed nationwide — an example of Dean Yannis C. Yortsos’s concept of Engineering+, where engineering enables any discipline, ranging from the arts to medicine to social sciences.




In 2006, the History Channel selected Berok Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting method of robotic 3D-printed construction as one of the top 25 inventions for its “Modern Marvels” program. The technology was selected from more than 4,000 candidates by the History Channel and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.




In 2016, the Center for AI in Society, one of the first in the country focused on AI for social impact, was established. The concept of “AI for good” has been used to protect U.S. ports, airports and infrastructure from terrorists. The technology also is deployed to thwart poachers and protect endangered animals.




Built in the City of Angels. USC Viterbi leads the National Science Foundation startup ecosystem in the Western U.S. With a $15 million award in 2021, USC leads the I-Corps Hub: West, a consortium of nine universities, including Caltech and UCLA, to launch deep technology startups. This builds on USC Viterbi’s entrepreneurial strength with the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (2011), Viterbi Startup Garage (2013), and the Min Family Challenge (2015), as well as being the PI in the NSF I-Corps Innovation Node IN-LA from 2014 through 2021.




In 2017, the USC Information Sciences Institute, USC Viterbi’s crown jewel research institute, opened an office in the Greater Boston area to complement its facilities in Marina del Rey, California, and Northern Virginia. The Boston office marked ISI’s first geographical expansion in more than two decades.




Seeing is believing: After 25 years of research, the Argus 2 device, developed by USC Viterbi’s Mark Humayun and introduced in 2013, became the first FDA-approved artificial retina to restore sight to the blind. A couple years earlier, in 2011, Professor Ted Berger’s brain implant became the first medical device in the world to restore lost memory function and strengthen recall. MIT Technology Review named it one of the “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013.”




A different kind of California dreamin’: USC Viterbi leads 16 universities and companies to boost microelectronics production for 5G/6G. California DREAMS is one of eight hubs chosen by the U.S. Department of Defense as part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.



20 Things You Should Know About USC Viterbi’s Future

What can you do with $1 billion? If you’re USC, you launch Frontiers of Computing, the largest academic initiative in the university’s history, integrating AI and computing across all schools and disciplines. To meet the rising demand for tech workers, this “moonshot” initiative — bolstered by a $260 million gift from the Lord Foundation — seeks to bring computing instruction to all students.




The School of Advanced Computing, situated within USC Viterbi, will become USC’s 23rd school. Sixty new faculty will be hired by 2030 to spur research and innovation in advanced computing technologies, including AI and machine learning, data science, blockchain and quantum information.




USC will expand its footprint in West Los Angeles with a new Silicon Beach Campus, anchored by USC Viterbi’s Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey and the Institute for Creative Technologies in Playa Vista. The new campus will connect to L.A.’s growing westside tech corridor.




Remember this number: 28,000. By about 2033, that’s how many USC students are expected to have graduated with computing-related proficiency across different disciplines and degrees, preparing them for tech-forward professions of the future.




A new spin on toothpaste? Think something much more illuminating. All space-related activities will be united under one umbrella under CREST, for Center for Research in Space Technologies. The center will accelerate civil and commercial uses of space resources and will include research in cybersecurity and trust, decision science, in-space assembly and manufacturing, life space and more.




You’ve heard of deep muscle stimulation. Now get ready for personalized deep brain stimulation. Researchers have made major progress in creating new therapies for a host of neurological and mental disorders including depression, addiction and chronic pain. A team led by Maryam Shanechi has discovered a way to predict what effect electrical stimulation will have on an individual’s brain activity. Result? Engineers soon will be able to tailor treatment over time to each patient’s needs.




After 4.5 billion years, all the planet’s freshwater has been used and reused many times over. Now, USC Viterbi is helping parched mega-cities like Los Angeles with new innovations in water reuse, leading a $38 million, multi-university Water Reuse Consortium to address clean water and sustainability.




USC is creating pioneering interdisciplinary AI degrees! Recent examples include the Master of Science in Materials Engineering with Machine Learning (2021), a first-of-its-kind degree that will prepare graduates to lead the creation of advanced materials using AI and machine learning. In 2023, a joint AI for Business undergraduate degree was launched by USC Viterbi and the USC Marshall School of Business.




Get ready for the era of intelligent autonomy — as in autonomous vehicles and intelligent robotic assistants to advanced manufacturing and smart energy systems. The USC Center for Autonomy and AI will be busy designing innovative technology that can act intelligently and autonomously without human input in a safe and reliable manner. A revolution is coming in the way we travel, live and work. We will be riding in autonomous vehicles, perhaps a bit later than what the optimists are projecting, but sooner than what the pessimists among us now think. The progress in development of intelligent autonomy technology is real.




Oh, the humanity! The humanities and sciences traditionally have been seen as distinct specialties. But in a world where technology is advancing at a head-spinning pace, engineers need to hone their communication skills and ethical responsibilities. That’s the rationale behind the new Engineering in Society Program, which through courses, modules and extracurricular activities will stress the humanistic aspects of an engineering education. As an example, EIS launched Viterbi Conversations in Ethics magazine. So, don’t be surprised to see USC Viterbi students reading Shakespeare during breaks.




Tens of thousands of orphaned and idle oil wells in California could be converted into much-needed storage space for sustainable energy, saving the state millions of dollars annually and potentially making energy blackouts a thing of thing of the past. How? Professor Iraj Ershaghi, the Omar B. Milligan Chair in Petroleum Engineering, and his team have devised a way to turn these unused wells into batteries for the sun and wind.




AI will become more trustworthy with the development of entirely new kinds of algorithms that can reason better than the current models, which are notorious for fabricating information and making mistakes. Professor Yolanda Gil envisions automated systems that can plan and carry out experiments by themselves. She also predicts a world in which AI systems can continuously reanalyze data and update results on diseases or environmental change as it’s happening.




DEN@Viterbi, the acclaimed distance education network that has been around since the Nixon administration, is set to become even more technologically advanced, with virtual tutors and other enhanced learning tools powered by AI and augmented reality. The program will continue to bring engineering education to all corners of the earth, from girls in Afghanistan and students in war-torn Ukraine to U.S. servicemen and women deployed overseas.




With the 2023 opening of the John Brooks Slaughter Center for Engineering Diversity, diversity, equity and inclusion will become even more entrenched throughout USC Viterbi. The trailblazing accomplishments of Slaughter, a distinguished professor of engineering with a joint appointment at the USC Rossier School of Education, include being the first Black director of the National Science Foundation, the first Black president of Occidental College and the first Black chancellor of the University of Maryland.




Expect quantum computing to take a quantum leap into revolutionizing computing as we know it. Quantum scientist and engineer Daniel Lidar envisions considerable advancements in physics and materials science, aiding in areas such as the intricate modeling of molecular structures and speeding up the discovery or creation of materials with exotic properties.




In Los Angeles, there are 28,600 housing options for roughly 75,518 people experiencing homelessness. A partnership between USC Viterbi engineers and social workers at the USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is using AI tools to better match people to resources in a way that is efficient, fair and transparent.




Professor Peter Yingxiao Wang, an expert in engineered cell-based cancer therapies, has big plans as the new chair of the Alfred E. Mann Department of Biomedical Engineering. Wang, selected to lead the department in 2023 following a $35 million renaming gift, sees an opportunity to spearhead the integration of advancements from different disciplines across engineering and medicine. He expects expanded medical engineering research, the hiring of more top faculty members and strengthened ties with the Keck School of Medicine of USC.




Ordering your USC Viterbi transcripts online to print out and then send to a potential employer is so 2022. Last year, Grand Challenges Scholars were the first to receive digital credentials that use blockchain technology. They are designed for instantaneous verification and complement traditional existing credentials issued by the university’s transcript office.




Researchers at the USC Viterbi Center for Advanced Manufacturing are developing AI-powered smart manufacturing technologies to improve the sustainability of manufacturing processes, increase productivity and eliminate the need for humans to perform ergonomically challenging tasks, enable innovation by adding new process capabilities, and improve the competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing industry in the aerospace, defense and biomedical sectors.




Los Angeles could be powered completely and reliably by 100% renewable energy by 2045, through an ambitious adoption of solar and wind power, hydropower, and improved electrical storage, said a study by L.A. and the US Department of Energy. Using energy when it’s plentiful during sunnier and windier hours would help with the transition. Professor Kelly Sanders contributed to the report.