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July 25, 2014: Teng Named Simons Investigator

The five-year grant to Shang-Hua Teng, considered among the world’s most original theoretical computer scientists, allows him to pursue the ‘long game.’
Contact: Robert Perkins at (213) 740-9226 or perkinsr@usc.edu
July 25, 2014 —

The Simons Foundation announced today that USC’s Shang-Hua Teng will be a member of its 2014 class of Simons Investigators. He is among one of the two outstanding computer scientists chosen nationwide.

The five-year, $500,000 grants include the opportunity to renew the award for an additional five years -- representing a significant and unusually lengthy commitment to funding his research into theoretical computer science.

“I am very pleased but not at all surprised of Shanghua's newest distinction. He is an outstanding theoretical computer scientist with fundamental contributions in this important area of science. Shanghua brings honor and distinction to our Department of Computer Science and the Viterbi School. We look forward to important new discoveries from him and his team,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School.

Teng, Seeley G. Mudd Professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, also holds a recent joint appointment in the Mathematics Department at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

The foundation described Teng as “one of the most original theoretical computer scientists in the world, with groundbreaking discoveries in algorithm design, spectral graph theory, operations research, and algorithmic game theory.” His work tackles fundamental questions at the foundation of computing – including optimization problems, networking analysis, and game theory.

The grant will allow Teng to approach problems with a long-term mindset, funding graduate students from both the computer science and mathematics departments to do research that “focuses on the long game, rather than pursuing the low-hanging fruit,” as Teng puts it.

In an economic climate where belts are tightening and often, research funding comes with demands that it be immediately transferrable to practical applications, large investments in fundamental research is rare – and much appreciated, Teng said. The Simons Foundation was created by mathematician-turned-philanthropist Jim Simons and his wife, Marilyn.

“We’re grateful that he wanted to continue to make an impact on fundamental research,” Teng said.

Teng, who grew up in China, earned a master’s degree in computer science at USC before pursuing a PhD at Carnegie Mellon University. A lifelong member of the Trojan Family, Teng returned to USC in 2009 and served as the computer science chair for three years. His wife, Diana Williams, is an assistant professor of history at USC.

Teng also draws inspiration for his work from his family – for example, watching his two-year- old daughter Sonia learn to speak has sparked an intense interest in understanding language acquisition and the process of learning.

“This is a very exciting period of time for computing, particularly theoretical computing, as its frontier is rapidly expanding,” he said, noting that the fields of inquiry explored by theoretical computer science have relevance throughout academia, including economics, social science, communication, statistics, biology, and others.

“Shanghua is one of most gifted and creative Computer Scientists of our times. He's also an inspirational figure to students and young faculty. I'm proud to call him my colleague and friend,” said Gaurav Sukhatme, chair of the Computer Science Department.

Teng is an ACM Fellow, Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, and winner of the ACM Gödel Prize and the Fulkerson Prize (from the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Optimization Society).

About the USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Engineering Studies began at the University of Southern California in 1905. Nearly a century later, the Viterbi School of Engineering received a naming gift in 2004 from alumnus Andrew J. Viterbi, inventor of the Viterbi algorithm now key to cell phone technology and numerous data applications. Consistently ranked among the top graduate programs in the world, the school enrolls more than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students, taught by 174 tenured and tenure-track faculty, with 60 endowed chairs and professorships. http://viterbi.usc.edu

Robert Perkins at (213) 740-9226 or perkinsr@usc.edu