Logo: University of Southern California

Students First to Step across Tsinghua – USC Bridge

Angus McColl
August 23, 2007 —

The Tsinghua students with USC Viterbi School faculty and graduate students
Eight undergraduate students from Tsinghua University, China’s top engineering school, completed a six-week summer research internship with faculty and graduate students at the USC Viterbi School during the summer.

“These eight are the first to walk across the bridge of partnership established between the two schools,” said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “We hope to see this program grow and develop ever stronger ties between two excellent engineering schools.”

The strategic partnership was initiated in May 2007 by Yortsos and Dean Jiangu Sun, of Tsinghua’s School of Information Systems and Technology. The agreement called for student and faculty exchanges as well as collaboration in research and education topics of mutual interest.

Funding for the Tsinghua-Viterbi partnership was provided by Feng Deng (MSCE’93) who received his undergraduate engineering degree from Tsinghua and had a sparkling career in Silicon Valley. After working for Intel and Juniper Networks, he founded Netscreen Technologies. Deng then returned to China to co-found Northern Light Venture Capital with three Chinese partners. The company invests in and develops emerging Chinese technology-based companies. Deng’s vision is to send China’s best undergraduate engineers to USC to expose them to world-class research so they can develop technology innovation skills.

The Viterbi School’s Senior Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives Raghu Raghavendra and Margie Berti, associate dean for doctoral programs, hosted the students. At a celebration luncheon held at the end of the summer, the students provided feedback on both their research efforts and their experiences offering universal in praise for the opportunity to fully integrate with the school’s research laboratory teams including participating in actual research projects. Many expressed hope that they could return to USC as graduate students.

Xiaoguang Wang and Sheng Wang joined Professor C. C. Jay Kuo’s Media Communications Lab, analyzing and improving the Wiimote controller for Nintendo’s Wii game console.

“We studied the Wii video game machine,” said Xiaoguang Wang. “It is easier to control than X-Box. We learned a lot about various ways to achieve human-machine interface, including the use of movement and acceleration sensors, and infra-red sensors.”

“I spent a lot of time reading about Wii and then thinking about how it works,” Sheng Wang added. “I learned a lot about how Wiimote control data can be used.” He said that he appreciated the help of Naco Chiang, the senior doctoral student in Kuo’s lab, and that he enjoyed using the USC gym at the Lyon Center.

Yuankai Ge and Dong Li worked with Bhaskar Krishnamachari, assistant professor of electrical engineering and holder of the Cayley MacDonald Early Career Chair, on signal transmissions for embedded sensor systems.

“Yuankai and Dong were amazing in how quickly they learned to do something entirely new. Working hard, they were able to accomplish in a little over four weeks what may take other students as much as a semester,” said Krishnamachari. “They leave my group with useful software and documentation that will help us greatly in our future research.”

Ge was enthusiastic about the opportunity to solve some antenna problems, which helped improve the quality of transmitted radio signals.

“The results are promising for future research,” said Ge.

At the luncheon Dong said, “This is our first time out of our country. This was a great experience for us, but without your help we might have met a lot of trouble.”

Guodong Wang said that one of the things he enjoyed the most was the opportunity to get to know the other staff in Professor of Computer Science Gerard Medioni’s Computer Vision Laboratory, housed in the USC Viterbi School’s Integrated Media Systems Center.

“I really enjoyed getting to know the people in my lab. One very rich part of the experience was being able to read their technical papers,” he said. "I got to know everyone in the lab and learned about what each person was doing.”

Wenhao Jia said he was grateful about being able to actually participate in serious research. “I had the opportunity to assist a PhD student in growing nano-tubes. My exposure to the research environment at USC really opened my eyes and helped me really understand how to do research. I really hope to return to USC.”

The interns also expressed gratitude for the mentoring they received from faculty and research staff.

“One of the projects I worked on was to write software that can process inputs from up to eight sensors on an implanted chip,” said Lingyun Zhao who worked on two projects in the Biomedical Microsystems Laboratory with Ellis Meng, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “I’m still not done with it, but I hope to finish in the next day or two before I leave."

Wentao Han worked under Professor Viktor Prasanna, holder of the Charles Lee Powell Chair in Engineering. “I learned a lot about how to test a project,” he said. “That’s something I never got to do before.”

The Tsinghua students also made time to enjoy Southern California attractions including trips to Disneyland, the Staples Center, Santa Monica and Newport Beach. They said that while Southern California’s gentle climate was warm, it was not as hot as Beijing in the summer.

Raghavendra said that this first summer of Tsinghua research internships at USC was intended to be a starting point for an ongoing program.

“We hope this year’s interns will go back to Tsinghua and tell others about their experiences. We look forward to receiving additional Tsinghua students and faculty, too,” he said. “We also hope to send some USC students to Tsinghua.”

Berti agreed wholeheartedly.

“These students were superb, fully integrated themselves into the school, and interacted wonderfully with USC Viterbi School faculty, staff and students,” she said. “They are definitely some of the brightest in the world, and we hope they will return to USC for graduate programs in engineering.”

--Angus McColl