Logo: University of Southern California

Maja Matarić Named First Inaugural Chan Soon-Shiong Chair

Matarić received this distinction for her work using robots to improve human health.
BY: Anna-Catherine Brigida
February 16, 2013 —
Dean Yortsos with Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, awardee Maja Matarić, Michele B. Chan and Provost Elizabeth Garrett at the installation ceremony in downtown Los Angeles

USC Viterbi School of Engineering computer science professor Maja Matarić, whose work with robotics has won national recognition for its cutting-edge integration of the engineering and health fields, was appointed the inaugural Chan Soon-Shiong Chair.

Maja’s work on robotics and its application to health and medicine is just the right fit,” Viterbi School Dean Yannis Yortsos said in a speech at the Feb. 4 ceremony. “Maja is a role model of the modern engineer: multidisciplinary, ambitious with very high standards, and embodying what we call Engineering+.”

Matarić began her robotics work as an M.S. and Ph.D. student at MIT, by designing software that enabled robots to navigate much like animals do, to cooperate in teams, and to learn by imitation. She joined USC in 1997, and a few years later began research into a new field her lab named "socially assistive robotics," which develops software that enables robots to interact with Alzheimer’s patients, stroke patients, and children with autism to improve their health outcomes and quality of life.

The Viterbi School received the endowment gift in September 2011 from surgeon and philanthropist Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and his wife Michele B. Chan. A medical doctor by training but an engineer at heart, according to Dean Yortsos, Dr. Soon-Shiong has made significant advances in cancer and diabetes medication.

One of the most prominent cancer researchers in the world, he holds over 50 issued U.S. patents, developed and sold two multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies and invented the nation’s first FDA-approved protein nanoparticle delivery technology for the treatment of cancer. Dr. Soon-Shiong has long leveraged technology in medicine for better healthcare.

He and his wife’s endowment seeks to support a Viterbi professor whose work innovatively combines medicine and engineering. 

At the Feb. 4 celebratory dinner, USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett said: “Dr. Soon-Shiong’s remarkable achievements in the world of surgery and his devotion to charitable causes mark him as one of Los Angeles’ most notable residents.”

Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos thanked the Soon-Shiongs for their longstanding generosity and support. He said he hoped the school could deepen its longstanding partnership with the couple.

“We would like to enhance our engagement even further so that together we can accomplish great things in these exciting times when technology empowers society,” Yortsos said. “And so that we can create an unparalleled legacy that will last for generations.”

Matarić also shared her enthusiasm.

“I am thrilled and honored to receive the Chan-Soon Shiong endowed chair, and to share with Patrick the vision for how engineering technologies can make major strides in improving human health,” Matarić said.