Logo: University of Southern California

Olah, Scholtz Named to the National Academy of Engineering

The Viterbi School is one of only six schools in nation with two or more elected members.
Diane Ainsworth
February 06, 2009 —

Nobel Prize winner George A. Olah, who holds a joint appointment in the Viterbi School, and Robert A. Scholtz, Fred H. Cole Professor of Engineering in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, were among 65 newly elected members of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), announced today in Washington, D.C.

Olah Scholtz Cropped
Nobel Laureate George A. Olah (left) and Professor Robert A. Scholtz (right), the Fred H. Cole Professor of Engineering in the Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, are newly elected members of the National Academy of Engineering.                            -- Jon Vidar image.

This is the second year in a row that two engineers from USC have been elected to the NAE, making USC one of only six schools in the nation with two or more elected faculty per year.  Membership in the Academy is the highest professional distinction that can be accorded an engineer.  

The election of Olah and Scholtz brings the total number of USC Viterbi School of Engineering NAE members to 33. It also gives the Viterbi Schol the distinction of having six faculty members who are 'triple crown' winners - holders of membership in NAE, NAS, and AAAS.

“We are very proud that NAE is recognizing two of our faculty for their superb contributions,” said Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.  “NAE membership is an indicator of excellence and a testament to the impact of an individual’s scholarly work in the field.” 

Olah, the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Chair in Organic Chemistry, a USC Distinguished Professor, the founder/director of USC’s Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, and jointly appointed to the Viterbi School, was recognized for “contributions to the development of chemical technologies for environmentally favored and carbon-neutral energy conversion.”  

One of the world’s preeminent scholars of hydrocarbon chemistry, Olah received the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his achievements in superacids and his observations of carbocations, a fleeting chemical species long theorized to exist but never confirmed.  Olah devised a way to keep the transient carbocations around long enough to study their properties. What he found revolutionized the understanding of organic chemistry, leading to new discoveries and improvements in the production of gasoline, plastics and pharmaceuticals, to name a few.

His seminal contributions to the technologies of hyrdrocarbons and energy conversion led to the concept of the “methanol economy,” which has the potential of mitigating society’s reliance on fossil fuel sources for energy and materials.  Methanol and dimethyl ether, which can be produced from carbon dioxide using renewable sources of energy, are excellent combustion fuels and feedstocks for ethylene and propylene production.  The chemistry behind the “methanol economy” is now being commercially developed.

Olah Animated Cropped Scholtze Smiling Cropped
George A. Olah
Robert A. Scholtz 

Scholtz, who started the first university research program in ultra-wideband radio, was recognized for “contributions to the fields of ultra-wideband and spread-spectrum communications.”  

A member of the Viterbi School faculty since 1963, Scholtz has spent the last decade studying applications of ultra-wideband — brief signal pulses spread over a very wide band of the radio spectrum — for imaging, data transmission and other tasks. His research interests range from spread-spectrum communications, ultra-wideband and impulse radio, synchronization techniques, adaptive arrays and filters to pseudo-noise generators and communication networks.
In 2006, the first commercial applications of ultra-wideband technology, for short-range high bandwidth wireless data links were introduced, thanks to his landmark research.  Scholtz was also co-recipient that year of the IEEE Eric E. Sumner Award "for pioneering contributions to ultra-wide band communications science and technology."

Currently director of a research unit specializing in the field, the USC UltRA Laboratory,  Scholtz’s other IEEE honors include the Donald G. Fink Prize Paper Award, IEEE Communications Society’s Leonard G. Abraham and Fred Ellersick Prizes, IEEE Signal Processing Society’s Senior Paper Award, and the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society’s Sergei A. Shelkunoff Transactions Prize Paper Award.