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USC Electrical Engineering: Innovation and Excellence

October 22, 2006 — With 54 tenured or tenure-track faculty, the USC Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical  Engineering is the Viterbi School’s largest, and one of the largest of its kind in the nation. It is distinguished by 11 faculty who are members of the National Academy of Engineering, three of whom are also members of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Four have received the Claude Shannon Award, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers' most prestigious award in information theory.

The very first engineering courses taught at USC during the 1905-06 academic year were in electrical engineering and the department began with an educational, rather than a research focus. However, by the end of World War II, the emphasis had begun to change.  In the 1960s, the charismatic EE chair who eventually became dean, Zohrab Kaprielian, decided USC should concentrate on promising new areas.  The roll call of ensuing innovation and excellence that resulted speaks for itself.  Here are some highlights, in alphabetical order:

  • Communication networks: a large group performing research together with the USC Information Sciences Institute work have made many contributions to the control procedures for the Internet for almost 40 years.
  • Deep space communications: NAS members Solomon Golomb and William Lindsey published pioneering work that has defined the subject.
    Solomon Golomb
  • Electronic logic chips and testing: Melvin Breuer and Sandeep Gupta pioneered ways to make circuit chips test themselves.
  • Error-correcting codes: Audio, video and data reproduced from scratched compact disks and DVDs is error-free, thanks to fundamental work on error-correcting codes by Irving Reed.  Building on this work by Reed and others, Vijay Kumar’s work on new quaternary error-correction is now embedded in cell phone systems.
  • Fuzzy logic: Quantitative measures of events that are imprecisely defined. Bart Kosko’s control algorithms enable machines to respond effectively to uncertain or noisy signals. Jerry Mendel has pioneered type-2 fuzzy sets and systems, a new branch of fuzzy logic.
  • Image processing, compression and pattern recognition: the familiar JPEG format for image compression and MPEG format for video compression were pioneered at USC’s Signal and Image Processing Institute (SIPI).  SIPI is also recognized for work in pattern recognition and computer vision systems that recognize shapes and objects.  Faculty members such as Antonio Ortega, Jay Kuo and Alexander Sawchuk continue research in these fields.
  • Laser technology: Two NAE members, Robert Hellwarth and P. Daniel Dapkus, have made fundamental contributions.   Hellwarth was an early inventor and developer of "giant pulse" lasers and fundamental studies of laser-induced effects in
    Dan Dapkus
    materials. Dapkus pioneered semi-conductor lasers, including quantum well nanoscale devices.
  • Nanophotonics: John O’Brien's work with Anthony F.J. Levi  and Dapkus on design and creation of photonic devices at the scale of individual photons using photonic crystal lasers with quantum dot emitting elements is highly influential.
  • Nanotubes: In this burgeoning new field, new work by a young USC researcher,  Chongwu Zhou, on ways to shape and control the growth of single-atom-thick carbon cylinders has attracted wide attention.
  • Nonlinear Optics: Hellwarth’s laser studies provided the foundation for exploration of materials in which high-intensity pulses of laser light produce drastic and often useful changes in the material’s electronic characteristics.
  • Optical and photonic computing and interconnections: Sawchuk and B. Keith Jenkins created one of the first all-optical photonic digital computing systems.  William Steier has been a leader in creating devices that translate signals between
    Sandy Sawchuk
    electronic and digital forms.
  • Optical communications: Alan Willner is known for his pioneering work in optical networks and fiber-optic communications.
  • Plasma research: Tom Katsouleas was the first to demonstrate a basic prediction of relativity — refraction of particles — in the Stanford linear accelerator.  Hans Kuehl did basic research in plasma waves, including single waves (‘solitons’) that propagate without changing their shape.
  • Pseudorandom numbers: Golomb’s work in number theory is now part of communication and cryptographic systems all over the world.
  • Pulsed Power: Martin Gundersen has been a leader in utilizing extremely short-duration, high-intensity bursts of energy for applications ranging from pollution control to cancer therapy.
  • Quantum computing: Theorists Daniel Lidar, Todd Brun and Igor Devetak are making major
    contributions by using "entanglement" for computation.
    Alan Willner
  • Speech recognition, generation and modeling: Shri Narayanan has made fundamental advances in computer algorithms for speech processing.
  • Three dimensional and biomedical imaging: Richard Leahy’s Biomedical Imaging Research Lab created now widely-used “Brainstorm” software, and has adapted 3D imaging techniques to non-biomedical applications.
  • Ultra high fidelity sound: Chris Kyriakakis has created techniques to record and reproduce audio with unprecedented accuracy, making listeners feel that they are immersed in an audio environment that duplicates reality.
  • Ultrawideband: A technology in which very weak, very wide-spectrum signals have uses ranging from wireless data links to position location, was pioneered by Robert A. Scholtz.
    Robert Scholtz
  • Viterbi Algorithm: The Viterbi Algorithm is an essential part of communications systems, cell phones, magnetic data storage and many other devices.  It was developed by Andrew Viterbi, USC alumnus, entrepreneur, and NAE/NAS/AAAS member, who together with his wife Erna made the naming gift for the Viterbi School of Engineering.

For information about the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, go to http://ee.usc.edu/