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Tsinghua Student Interns Savor the Research as Much as the International Experience

Outstanding group of students worked one-on-one with leading Viterbi School faculty on projects destined to advance technology and improve human health

September 02, 2008 — Twelve undergraduate engineering students from China’s premier engineering school got a chance to participate in hands-on research ranging from the synthesis of carbon nanotubes to understanding different types of neurons in the brain during this year’s Tsinghua-Viterbi School summer internship program.    
Tsinghua U Stu Exchange 08 Group
Tsinghua University-USC summer internship students with USC student peers and faculty mentors.

The students were part of a six-week program designed to give them practical experience in laboratory research across engineering disciplines of mutual interest to both institutions. 

“This is the second group of summer interns to walk across the bridge of the partnership established between Viterbi and Tsinghua in 2007,” said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.  “We are delighted to have talented and promising young engineers in our midst and to work with them in research at the forefront of new science and technology."

The students worked on projects such as Professor Viktor Prasanna’s work to design a computer multicore processor; Professor Gerard Medioni’s work in video object tracking; and Professor Chongwu Zhou’s work on the synthesis and applications of carbon nanotubes and nanowires.  They called the experimental research experience “fantastic” and “visionary,” and said the work allowed them the flexibility to test their own theories in the laboratory.    

Xue Lin, an electronics major at Tsinghua University, worked in Zhou’s nanotechnology lab on synthesis and device applications of aligned carbon nanotubes, which have the potential of becoming a substitute for silicon in high-performance electronic devices and integrated circuits. 
Xue Lin, an electronics major at Tsinghua University, worked in Chongwu Zhou’s nanotechnology laboratory. 
“The work was new for me, but very interesting,” she said. “I also made some new friends in the lab and got a very good idea of what this work is about by conducting research.  Before I only had a general idea about it from reading books. This is a great way for USC faculty to get connected with the best young minds in China.”  

Ying-Ze Bao worked with Medioni on the problem of object tracking in video. In particular, he looked at issues involving changes of appearance in an object of interest due to lighting, pose and occlusion.

“This is a common problem when observing a scene,” Medioni said. “Ying-Ze designed and implemented a method to deal with these changes online, by learning and adapting the model. He compared his approach to state-of-the-art methods, and gave an excellent presentation of his work at the conclusion of the program.

“I found him to be very bright, very motivated, creative and talented, and it was a pleasure working with him,” Medioni continued, adding that the young engineer was seriously considering applying to the USC Ph.D. program in fall 2009. And I would be delighted to have him as a star student.” 

Liyan Jia, who called his research project at USC “fantastic,” worked in Professor C. C. Jay Kuo’s Media Communications Lab on image up-sampling techniques, such as texture classification, segmentation and interpolation. Working with many Ph.D. students, he benefited from the exposure to research ideas and methodology, as well as gaining insights into what graduate school is like. 
The students presented their research projects to the group at the end of the summer. 

“Being immersed in such a research environment, Liyan made excellent progress toward becoming a good researcher,” Kuo said.  “The summer internship was probably his first research experience in life, which turned out to be very exciting and attractive. Thus, Liyan has become more certain about his plans to go to graduate school to get Ph.D. training.”
Another student, Chi Wang, worked with Professor Bhaskar Krishnamachari, assistant professor of electrical engineering, on privacy-service tradeoffs in mobile applications.  “I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with Wang Chi,” Krishnamachari said. “He accomplished a remarkable amount in a very limited time during his internship in my group.”

Still another student, Shengqi Ye, worked with biomedical engineering professor Ted Berger on a project applying nonlinear dynamic modeling to distinguish functional differences between classes of neurons in the hippocampus that develop as a result of learning. 
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Liyan Jia, right, standing next to Professor Joe Qin, who holds appointments in three departments, said the summer research program helped him decide to pursue a Ph.D. 

“The hippocampus plays a critical role in memory formation,” Berger said, “ and Ye’s research represents a novel application of engineering principles to brain function. We expect the results to yield first-ever insights into neural representations of information in the brain, and how those ‘memory codes’ are altered as they flow through neural circuits.”

At a celebration luncheon held at the end of the summer, the students presented summaries of their research projects and provided feedback on both their research efforts and their experiences.  They expressed appreciation for the opportunity to fully integrate with the school’s research laboratory teams and to have some time to visit a few of Los Angeles’s famous restaurants and tourist attractions.

"This was another year of superb students,” said Margery Berti, Viterbi School associate dean for doctoral programs.  “They had such wonderful successes in the inaugural year, and it’s rewarding to see the students once again fully integrate themselves into the school, and have such a mutually positive experience with USC Viterbi School faculty, staff and students.  As some of the brightest students in the world, we hope they will return to USC for graduate programs in engineering."

Both the research opportunities and the international experience seemed to appeal to the students, said Cauligi Raghavendra, senior associate dean for strategic initiatives. "Tsinghua University students find this program extremely valuable because they get to work with leading faculty in cutting edge research areas,” he noted.  “They also have an interesting international experience in a foreign country and enjoy meeting U.S. students and other foreign students during their stay here.”

The Tsinghua University-Viterbi School partnership was initiated in May 2007 by deans Yannis C. Yortsos and Jiangu Sun of Tsinghua’s School of Information Science and Technology. Funding was provided by Feng Deng (MS CENG ’93), a Chinese entrepreneur and engineer who received his undergraduate engineering degree from Tsinghua University and an M.S. in computer engineering from the Viterbi School. Deng’s vision is to send China’s best undergraduate engineers to USC to expose them to world-class research and help them develop technology innovation skills, with the goal of encouraging them to pursue graduate engineering programs in the U.S.