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Viterbi Research on the NAE Grand Challenges

Tackling Engineering's 'Grand Challenges'

Viterbi researchers take up call from the National Academy of Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announced 14 Grand Challenges to be addressed in the early years of the 21st century if we are to safeguard our natural resources, promote quality of life worldwide and build a more secure and sustainable future for an ever-growing global population.

The Viterbi School has welcomed NAE’s call to action; our faculty have been involved with many ongoing research initiatives (listed below) that are directly aligned and reflect NAE’s challenges. These research initiatives span the following areas:


Energy and Environment



Personalized Learning

Tools of Discovery


Advance Health Informatics: Stronger health information systems not only improve everyday medical visits, but they are essential to counter pandemics and biological or chemical attacks.

Engineer Better Medicines: Our faculty are developing new systems that use genetic information, sense small changes in the body, assess new drugs, and deliver vaccines.  Faculty includes Yong ChenNoah MalmstadtEllis MengMichelle PovinelliRichard Roberts, Pin Wang, and others.

Reverse-Engineer the Brain: The intersection of engineering and neuroscience promises great advances in health care, manufacturing, and communication.

•    Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems (BMES) Engineering Research Center: Developing biomimetic devices and prostheses; reverse-engineering parts of the brain (Theodore Berger, Mark Humayun, Gerald Loeb, Ellis Meng).

•    Biomedical Simulations Resource (BMSR): Using computational engineering tools to solve biomedical phenomena (Theodore Berger, David D’Argenio, Michael Khoo, Vasilis Marmarelis).

•    Center for Genomic and Phenomic Studies in Autism: Survey and build world’s largest database of genetic, physical and behavioral profiles of children with autism (Clara Lajonchere, Constantinos Sioutas).

•    Resource Center for Medical Ultrasonic Transducer Technology: Developing new UV imaging technologies for disease detection and treatment (K. Kirk Shung).

•    Center for Health Informatics (CHI): Creating a global computing platform for the exchange of health information (Stephan Erberich, Carl Kesselman).

•    Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN): Facilitating biomedical data-sharing (Carl Kesselman).

•    The BioRC project by Prof. Alice Parker employs analog computations to emulate neural structures, supported by the use of nanotechnology, with structures a few nanometers in dimension, with the future capability of controlled assembly and use.

Another strong area of research focuses on wearable sensors and mobile computing for health; faculty include Murali Anavaram, Urbashi Mitra, Gaurav Sukhatme, Maja Matarić, Shri Narayanan.

Viterbi School faculty are also involved in developing methods and technologies for new diagnostics and therapies for a wide variety of conditions and disorders of vision, sleep, motor/movement control, social behavior, and cognitive function. Faculty include Ted Berger, Martin Gundersen, Michael Khoo, Gerald Loeb, Maja Matarić, Shri Narayanan, Terrence Sanger, Costas Sioutas, Francisco Valero-Cuevas.

A significant number of our faculty are involved in imaging research, including Richard Leahy, Krishna Nayak and Kirk Shung.  The Viterbi School of Engineering is teamed up with the Keck School of Medicine.


Energy and the Environment

Make Solar Energy Economical: Solar energy provides less than 1% of the world's total energy, but it has the potential to provide much, much more.  DoE Engineering Frontiers Research Center (EFRC) on Emerging Materials for Solar Energy Conversion and Solid State Lighting (Daniel Dapkus and Mark Thompson)

Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods: Engineers are working on ways to capture and store excess carbon dioxide to prevent global warming.

The Viterbi School efforts in the area of BigData for this NAE challenge area are summarized on the Big Data Science and Technology web portal.
•    CiSoft (Center for Smart Oilfield Technologies): Using information technologies to improve oil production and discovery (Iraj Ershaghi).

•    Solar power: Applications of nanoscience to solar and lighting (P. Daniel Dapkus, Chongwu Zhou).

•    Developing CO2 sequestration techniques (Kristian Jessen and Dongxiao “Don” Zhang).

•    Combustion, fuel cell technology, alternative fuels, nanopulse power for efficient combustion (Fokion Egolfopoulos, Martin Gundersen).

The Viterbi School has an extensive Energy Initiative with a wide variety of research projects.



Prevent Nuclear Terror: The need for technologies to prevent and respond to a nuclear attack is growing.

Secure Cyberspace: It’s more than preventing identity theft. Critical systems in banking, national security, and physical infrastructure may be at risk.

The Viterbi School efforts in the area of BigData for this NAE challenge area are summarized on the Big Data Science and Technology web portal.

•    USC Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE): Studies of nuclear, chemical, biological threats to major urban centers, airports and harbors (Isaac Maya).

•    Information Sciences Institute’s DETER (Defense Technology Experimental Research) program: Developing systems to prevent cyber attacks and develop countermeasures (Terry BenzelJelena MirkovicClifford Neuman, John Wroclawski).

•    Wireless network research (John Heidemann, Bhaskar Krishnamachari, Urbashi MitraMichael NeelyKonstantinos Psounis, Robert Scholtz, Wei Ye).

•    Computer architecture, computer engineering, coding and networking (Yigal Arens, Bob Braden, Ted Faber, Craig Knoblock, Jelena Mirkovic, Clifford Neuman, John Wroclawski).

•    Center for Computer System Security: Overseeing programs to build new computer security systems and virus detection software (Clifford Neuman).

•    Center for Knowledge Integration and Discovery (CKID).



Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure
Good design and advanced materials can improve transportation and energy, water, and waste systems, and also create more sustainable urban environments.

The Viterbi School efforts in the area of BigData for this NAE challenge area are summarized on the Big Data Science and Technology web portal.

•    Southern California Particle Center (operated jointly with UCLA): A leading center in the nation for the study of airborne particulate pollution (Constantinos Sioutas).

•    METRANS National Transportation Center: Supports research, education and outreach to solve metropolitan transportation problems (Petros Ioannou, James E. Moore).

•    Megacities Initiative: Advance geospatial information technologies, structural improvements, natural disaster mitigation, construction management and green technologies (Jean-Pierre Bardet, Roger Ghanem).
•    Water resources and movement of underground water (Dongxiao “Don” Zhang).

•    USC Water Institute (Gaurav Sukhatme)


Personalized Learning

Advance Personalized Learning: Instruction can be individualized based on learning styles, speeds, and interests to make learning more reliable.

Enhance Virtual Reality: True virtual reality creates the illusion of actually being in a difference space. It can be used for training, treatment, and communication.

The Viterbi School efforts in the area of BigData for this NAE challenge area are summarized on the Big Data Science and Technology web portal.

•    USC Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC): Developing immersive visualization technologies for geospatial decision-making (James Baker, Ulrich Newmann, Cyrus Shahabi).

•    USC GamePipe Laboratory: Supporting serious games research and development (Michael Zyda).

•    Developing Web-based education systems, multimedia, intelligent tutoring systems and interactive digital media (Shrikanth Naryanan).

•    Personalized game-based learning research (Victor Lacour, Margaret McLaughlin, Dennis McLeod).

•    Technology-assisted learning for children and adults with special needs (Maja J. Matarić, Shirkanth Narayanan).

•    Developing technologies and methods for K-12 students and teacher training for improved outcomes (Dan Davis, Jihie Kim, Robert Lucas, Maja J. Matarić, Gigi Ragusa, Erin Shaw).


Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery

In the century ahead, engineers will continue to be partners with scientists in the great quest for understanding many unanswered questions of nature.

The Viterbi School efforts in the area of BigData for this NAE challenge area are summarized on the Big Data Science and Technology web portal.

•    Interactive Knowledge Capture team (Yolanda Gil) is building "knowledge acquisition tools" that will be easily usable by scientists who are not computer science experts.

•    ISI’s Pegasus Project (Ewa Deelman) automates discovery steps, "compiling not just software and data, but expertise." Deelman and Jose-Luis Ambite are applying these tools to DNA database exploration. 

•    Distributed networks of sensors and robots for aquatic, forest and other environmental monitoring and charactarization (John Heidermann, Urbashi MitraGaurav Sukhatme).

•    Developing instrumentation and methods to understand biological systems and material behavior (Andrea Armani