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USC Salutes Its Two Newest National Academy of Engineering Members

February 26, 2009 —

USC's pride lit up the Ming Hsieh Boardroom and the smiling faces of top university officials, deans, faculty and staff from two schools -- not to mention six members of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) -- who gathered February 25, 2009 to celebrate two more faculty members named this year to engineering's most prestigious organization.  

Left to right: Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos; USC President Steven Sample; guest of honor Robert Scholtz, the Fred H. Cole Professor of Engineering in the Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering; guest of honor George Olah, Nobel laureate and Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Chair in Organic Chemistry; and USC Executive Vice President and Provost C. L. Max Nikias -- all NAE members.   (Steve Cohn photo)

Enjoying the radiance of the afternoon sun and the elegance of the Academy Awards, guests were treated to sumptuous hors d'oeuvres and the company of their colleagues. Surrounded by friends and colleagues going back 40 years, the guests of honor were George A. Olah, a Nobel laureate in chemistry and Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Chair in Organic Chemistry, and Robert A. Scholtz, the Fred H. Cole Professor of Engineering in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering. The two were warmly congratulated by more than 50 attendees for their exceptional contributions to scholarship and to improving the quality of life for people around the world.

“There is much to make us proud at the Viterbi School, but nothing that is better than the quality of our faculty,” said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.  “They are the source of our excellence and the foundation of our unsinkable faith in the future.

“To put the proper perspective on this accomplishment, one should note that the NAE only elects 65 new members each year, of which only about half are from academia,” Yortsos said.  “We are justifiably proud that two out of the 30-something academics so honored [this year] are from USC.”

Except for the missing red carpet, stunning attire and flashing cameras, the celebration was Academy level all the way. The six NAE members present included USC President Steven B. Sample, Executive Vice President and Provost C. L. Max Nikias, Dean Yortsos, Viterbi School Board of Councilors member Albert Dorman, Mitra Sanjit, the Stephen and Etta Varra Professor in the Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, and L. Louis Hegedus, a close friend of the Olahs and retired vice president of research and development at Arkema, Inc.

Yortsos, who presided over most of the ceremony, was quick to point out the differences between winning an Oscar and winning NAE membership.    

“Contrary to the Oscars, the NAE winners are known before the show, and, thankfully, the losers are not,” he said, sending the crowd into laughter. “In the case of George Olah and Bob Scholtz, the distinction is overdue.  Their distinctions are monumental.”  

A toast to two outstanding colleagues -- USC President Steven B. Sample raises a glass of champagne to honor Olah, on the left, and Scholtz, on the right.  (Steve Cohn image)

Other dignitaries included USC College Dean Howard Gillman, the honorees' wives, Judith Olah and Lolly Scholtz, and Hegedus’ wife, Eva, as well as longtime USC engineering faculty and luminaries in a variety of related fields.       

Membership in the National Academy of Engineering is the highest professional distinction that can be accorded to an engineer, and for the second year in a row, the Academy has elected two members of USC’s faculty, bringing the university’s total NAE membership to 33.  

“That distinguishes USC as one of only six universities in the nation to have two or more elected members during each of the last two years,” said Sample, who is a member of the Viterbi School's electrical engineering faculty, “and that says something wonderful about USC.”

Olah is a USC Distinguished Professor, founding director of USC’s Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, and a chemistry professor with joint appointments in the USC College and the Viterbi School.  He was recognized by the Academy for his  “contributions to the development of chemical technologies for environmentally favored and carbon-neutral energy conversion.”  

A preeminent scholar in carbon chemistry, Olah developed the concept of a “methanol economy,” which has the potential for breaking the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, Yortsos said.

Scholtz, who started the first university research program in ultra-wideband radio, was recognized for his “contributions to the fields of ultra-wideband and spread-spectrum communications.”  

Yortsos called him “a stalwart of USC engineering for over 40 years.”  His pioneering research in applications of ultra-wideband -- which are signals spread over a very wide band of the radio spectrum – led to the first commercial technology in 2006.

After brief remarks from the two honorees, President Sample led the crowd in a toast:

“To two outstanding colleagues,” he said.  “Through your research and your teaching, you have made this university better and you are improving the quality of life for all citizens of the world.”