Logo: University of Southern California

East Meets West

Scholars from USC Viterbi and China’s prestigious Tsinghua University (THU) gathered in Los Angeles for Symposium
By: Marc Ballon
May 06, 2014 —

(Left to right)  Raghu Raghavendra, USC Viterbi vice dean for Global Academic Initiatives; Zhisheng Niu,
THU School of Information Science and Technology vice dean; USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett; USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos; and Kebin He, THU School of Environment dean.
Scholars from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and China’s prestigious Tsinghua University School of Information Science and Technology (THU) gathered on campus May 1 and May 2 to present research on the environment and informatics, share ideas and tighten links between the two schools.

At the 8th annual USC – THU symposium, more than 15 USC Viterbi and Tsinghua University professors shared ongoing research with an attentive audience at the two-day event. Topics ranged from THU Environment Dean Kebin He’s talk on air pollution and regional haze in China to USC Viterbi Professor Yan Liu’s address on scalable machine learning models for climate change attribution to USC Viterbi Professor Massoud Pedram’s speech on designing energy efficient information processing systems.

Underscoring the growing importance of this international collaboration, USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos and Zhisheng Niu, THU Information Science and Technology vice dean, all delivered opening remarks.

“Our world has an urgent need for engineering and technology that will curtail our reliance on dwindling natural resources and help us better understand our environment’s relationship with society,” said Garrett, who visited THU during her first trip as provost in October 2011. “When the best minds, like these here, join together in research, we increase the odds of finding solutions for these very important problems.”

Added Dean Yortsos: “This is one of the most important international relationships we have.”

The USC-THU relationship started in 2005 thanks to a generous gift from Feng Deng, an alumnus of both schools (MSCE ‘ 93), a current member of USC Viterbi’s Board of Councilors, and co-founder of Northern Light Venture Capital, one of China’s top VC firms. He made his donation to encourage academic partnerships and student exchanges between the two universities. Two years ago, Deng pledged a new round of funding for the program.

The first joint symposium took place in spring 2007 at the THU campus in Beijing. The annual USC – THU workshops have alternated locations ever since. They have also spawned several successful collaborations, including joint research projects and the establishment of a USC – THU Institute.

THU Vice Dean Niu, for instance, currently collaborates with USC Viterbi professors Andreas Molisch and Bhaskar Krishnamachari to analyze the capacity of multiple antennas and design energy-efficient techniques for the next generation of wireless communications systems. The trio keeps in touch through email, Skype and personal visits, Niu said.

“We have a common interest in the topics but different backgrounds,” he said. “Our work is complementary.”

USC Viterbi Professor Viktor Prasanna has also collaborated with THU faculty. He and his group joined forces on a two-year project with THU Computer Science Professor Jun Li to design high-speed Internet routers.

Equally important, the alliance has led students from both campuses to intern overseas. Ninety-two THU undergraduates have had summer internships at USC, while 30 USC Viterbi undergrads have interned at THU. Several of the THU students have gone on to doctorates at USC Viterbi.

“Some of the best students in our department come from Tsinghua University,” said Prasanna, who counts six THU graduates among his Ph.D. students. “They’re very motivated, very smart and very hard working.”