Logo: University of Southern California


Viterbi School faculty member wins highest U.S. honor for young faculty in science and engineering for her pioneering research in computational mathematics and music

June 13, 2005 —
Elaine Chew, assistant professor in the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, holder of the Viterbi Early Career chair and a research area director in the university’s Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC), has won a 2004 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Elaine Chew displays a spiral array, which is part of an interactive music visualization program she created to let people 'see' music.

Chew, a well-known concert pianist, was recognized for her innovative work at the intersection of computational mathematics and musical perception and cognition. Her research, which is highly integrative, combines aspects of the performing arts with computer science, modeling, human cognition and development of the Internet. The research promises to make music more visual, understandable and accessible to people.

The awards, presented today in a ceremony at the White House, are given annually to approximately 60 of the finest junior researchers in science and engineering across the country.  According to the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy, which administers the awards, recipients possess “talents and potential that are expected to make them leaders in 21st century science and technology.”

“We are absolutely delighted to hear of this award,” said USC Viterbi School Dean Yannis Yortsos.  “Elaine’s pioneering work in combining analytical modeling with musical analysis is truly groundbreaking. I think it underscores the importance of collaborative research in many fields today, and shows that creativity can lead to important breakthroughs.”

"This award recognizes Elaine's achievements across many fields, and it honors her creativity and leadership in interdisciplinary research,” added IMSC Director Adam Clayton Powell III. “We are all thrilled for her.”  

Classical Pianist
In addition to her engineering pursuits, Chew is a classical pianist who performs at concerts and recitals around the world. She believes music is the ideal domain in which to study communication, creativity, human perception and cognition.

“My technical training is in operations research, the science of decision-making,” she said. “A performance is the result of a series of decisions, either conscious or subconscious. Understand music and you begin to understand how the human mind works.”

Presidential recognition of this work “reflects a maturing of the music research community and suggests that the arts have an important place, even in our technologically oriented society,” Chew said. “Not only does the award recognize the research and teaching that I have been conducting, but it recognizes the work of my illustrious mentors, including Jeanne Bamberger, George Dantzig and Georgia Perakis.”

Chew, who oversees IMSC’s research area in human performance engineering, becomes the seventh engineer in USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering to receive the award. The award is supported by nine federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation. NSF contributes to the awards program through its own prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.  Junior faculty receiving one of these grants become eligible for PECASE awards, but only about five percent of CAREER awardees receive the PECASE award annually.
National Science Foundation CAREER Award 
Chew won an NSF CAREER award in 2004. The grant provided her with $500,000 over five years to pursue her interests in developing analysis tools to evaluate musical synchronizations in collaborative environments, especially those in development at IMSC, that will allow musicians in different geographic locations to perform together over the Internet.

The MIT graduate specializes in computational research in music cognition, music information categorization and retrieval, music visualization, music performance and performance rendering.

Chew is best known for inventing the “spiral array” model for tonality, a geometric model that combines aspects of interior point methods in operations research with pitch structures in music theory.  The model has spawned numerous algorithms for automatic tonal recognition and segmentation.  The Spiral Array Center of Effect Generator (CEG) method is one of the fastest and most accurate algorithms for key finding.

Among her current projects are MuSA.RT — Music on the Spiral Array. Real Time — an interactive music visualization system, and ESP — Expression Synthesis Project — a driving interface that renders expressive performances from non-expressive MIDI files.  Both visualization systems were created using IMSC's Software Architecture for Immersipresence (SAI) in collaboration with Professor Alexandre François and engineering students Jie Liu and Aaron Yang.

Chew is also leading user studies in IMSC's Distributed Immersive Performance (DIP) project, which is developing a system that will allow musicians to perform together in real time over the Internet. She is developing metrics to measure the psychophysical and perceptual effects of musical interaction over distance. She hopes to discover the thresholds of usability for a broadband Internet 2 system and to identify bottlenecks to remote collaborative environments.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Chew lived in Singapore most of her childhood, where she received conservatory-level music training and diplomas, before returning to the United States to study music, mathematics and engineering. She majored in music and computational mathematics as an undergraduate at Stanford and earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in operations research at MIT. 
<>White House photo of the event - Click Here 
Additional PECASE information and photos of Elaine Chew - http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~echew/PECASE
--Diane Ainsworth