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Research Vision

Research conducted at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering aims to address the major challenges facing our society and the world, now and in the future. We believe, as quantum physicist David Deutsch noted, that “there will always be problems”; but that “all problems are soluble”. Our overarching philosophy is that of “Engineering+”, the view of engineering as an enabler of solutions and of discovery in allied areas, including the natural, physical and social sciences, medicine and health, as well as communications, and the arts. Our research cuts across departments, centers of excellence, and research groups in the Viterbi School and across the University, and engages tenure-track and research faculty, undergraduates and graduate students in discovery and development of solutions.

Engineering is often characterized as “design under constraints” in the context of systems. It is the design, in a most general sense of structures, devices, software, digital media, compounds, materials, cells, organs, and possibly organisms with desired properties and function: that are autonomous, sense, move, construct, command, control, think, enable, communicate, compute, replicate, restore or improve function, and possibly emote. It is also the optimization of processes and methodologies that aim to increase efficiencies in a quest, often, for faster, stronger, higher performance.

Engineering is also the study of systems and the solution of challenges of great societal importance, for example as postulated in the Grand Challenges of the National Academy of Engineering. These include energy, infrastructure, water and food resources, the environment, security, and health, the improvement of the quality of life and the cultivation of the human spirit, and the enabling of discovery and advances in the sciences (natural and life sciences). In its newest manifestation of Engineering+, engineering also includes the burgeoning intersection with the social sciences, and digital media, where quantitative reasoning through the acquisition and mining of big data and evidence-based approaches are gaining traction and the study of human behavior and interaction relies on modern computational and communication techniques. This is emblematic of Computing and Information Sciences as an empowering discipline that embodies Engineering+, bringing technology to context and providing context to data. Finally, we are reminded that in one definition (Brian Arthur), engineering and technology “exploit a phenomenon for useful purposes”. Traditionally, the phenomenon used to be of a physical or chemical origin. Subsequently, technology moved to exploit biological phenomena. And very recently, it has expanded its reach to social phenomena.

This section summarizes the major challenge topics for the research being pursued in the Viterbi School: