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MIT Technology Review Names USC Viterbi’s Hao Li a Top Young Innovator

With Li’s selection, the USC Viterbi School has amassed more “Top Innovators Under 35” amongst its full-time junior faculty than any university since 2009
By: Megan Hazle
August 21, 2013 —
Hao Li (USC Viterbi/Noe Montes)

Today, MIT Technology Review published its annual list of top global innovators under the age of 35, recognizing young talent whose work has great potential to transform the world. This year, the global media company honored USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Hao Li as an outstanding innovator for his work in the field of software and its application to visual effects.

“Being part of this year's Innovators Under 35 list is an amazing honor and recognition for all the years of hard work,” Li said. “I owe this success to all my collaborators, mentors, friends and USC.”

The distinction puts USC Viterbi in a unique category: since 2009, according to the Technology Review web-site, seven of its faculty members have been selected as TR 35 young innovators. In the last five years, no school of engineering in the world has amassed more full-time, junior faculty honored among "the world's 35 top innovators under the age of 35." 

Among universities and industry, only Microsoft has produced more “Top Innovators Under 35” in that span.

Always an artist, Hao Li, 32, was inspired to get into programming by computer-generated visual effects in Hollywood films. While earning his master’s and doctorate degrees in computer science, he worked at George Lucas’ visual effects company, Industrial Light & Magic, to develop an algorithm that allows filmmakers to capture facial motion without using tracking dots on the actor’s skin. Most recently, Li employed those skills advancing real-time performance capture technology for the eagerly awaited “Star Wars: Episode VII.”

Li’s work serves not only the entertainment industry, but medicine as well. The algorithms he has developed to capture and model data in three dimensions and in real time also allow physicians to track heartbeats and cancerous tumors in patients.

Eager to continue his research and development of algorithms that capture body and facial movements, Li returns to academia this fall by joining the USC Viterbi School as a tenure-track assistant professor. There, he will launch the Geometric Capture Lab, a team within the USC Computer Graphics research group that will advance technologies in 3-D acquisition and animation.

“Engineering and technology can empower the arts in significant ways,” said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “Hao Li is a very promising innovator in that space. We are very pleased to have him educate our students and create pioneering work in this important area.”

Li joins a long list of impressive trendsetters recognized by MIT Technology Review. Previous winners include Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive and Tumblr creator David Karp. The other six USC Viterbi faculty members selected for the list are: Andrea Armani (2009), Ellis Meng (2009), Michelle Povinelli (2010), Jernej Barbič (2011), Bhaskar Krishnamachari (2011) and Burcin Becerik-Gerber (2012). Also Maja Matarić, now vice dean for research at the Viterbi School, was selected in 1999 in a previous version of the list.

This year’s honorees will be featured online as well as in the September/October print magazine, available at newsstands worldwide on September 3. They will also appear in person at the MIT’s Conference on the Emerging Technologies That Matter (EmTech) that will take place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from October 9–11.