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USC's Interdisciplinary X PRIZE Class Asks Students to Tackle Global Issues

Currently in its third year, the 2012 class addressed problems related to infrastructure in urban areas.

May 23, 2012 —

On a Tuesday evening in USC’s Ronald Tutor Hall, several suit-and-tie clad undergraduates gathered in the Ming Hsieh Board Room, chatting

Students give their final presentations for USC's X PRIZE class.
excitedly about the evening’s activities. The event? The final presentation of USC’s X PRIZE class, now in its third year. The X PRIZE Foundation planted a lab at USC in 2010, one of only three X PRIZE laboratories in the country, intended to encourage students and researchers to tackle current global issues, including the National Academy of Engineering’s 14 Grand Challenges, to best define the targets for new prizes.

An interdisciplinary class for students at USC Viterbi and USC Marshall School of Business, the class examines a different topic each year, with this year’s students asked to investigate problems related the aging and failing infrastructure in urban areas, and to develop X PRIZE-like challenges. Presentations included research that tackled soil remediation for sustainable urban environments, new materials for improving roads and sustainable city water systems.

The program opened with one of the students delivering a fitting rendition of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” leading into a presentation entitled “Making Roads Work.” The poem cleverly set the tone for his team’s research into developing sustainable and durable road surfaces without reducing driving efficiency.

The next presentation sought remediation for urban environments via decontaminating lead deposits pollution in soil. Students presented research on contaminated soil in Prague and Beijing, and instances of lead poisoning in Detroit-area children, before suggesting the development of a lead extraction system that would use “biological components” to reduce surface lead deposits as well as extraction costs.

The last presentation sought to develop a decentralized water-treatment system that decreases on-site consumption in urban areas. Students on this team investigated global water shortage and offered the solutions of more efficient water fixtures and the improvement of water treatment plants that are inefficiently located outside of the cities they serve.



Guest judges evaluate X PRIZE class presentations.
Presentations were judged by three industry experts: Gianelle Veis, USC Annenberg alumna and X PRIZE Foundation strategist; Los Angeles City Engineer Gary Lee Moore, who has overseen the completion of 526 projects for the City of Los Angeles; and X Team Principal David Collins, also a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The judges offered encouraging insight and helpful critiques to the students, who received the comments graciously.

USC’s X PRIZE class is co-lead by Jonathan Lasch, executive director of the Alfred E. Mann Institute and USC Viterbi research professor, and Gene Miller, executive director of USC Marshall’s Greif Center for Entrepreneurship. Both work to make the class interdisciplinary, encouraging students to use business fundamentals to meet engineering innovation. In turn, students learn about efficient evaluation of current issues, venture development and distribution operations, while sharpening analytical and critical thinking and oral and written communication skills. During the semester, students also enjoyed guest speakers, including Eric Shen, the Director of Transportation Planning for the Port of Long Beach, and Thomas Leary, Jr., USC’s Vice President of Capital Construction and Facilities Management. The class culminated in the delivered presentations on April 24th.

Next year the class will focus on the NAE Grand Challenge to advance health informatics.