Logo: University of Southern California

Andrea Armani Named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum

One of only two American professors so honored, Armani joins the planet’s top young leaders committed to making “the world a better place.”
By: Regina Wu
March 17, 2015 —
Andrea Armani, associate professor in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at USC Viterbi, and a Young Global Leader of 2015

Today, the World Economic Forum (WEF) recognized Prof. Andrea Armani as a Young Global Leader. The WEF had previously honored Armani, a USC Viterbi associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, as a Young Scientist in 2014.

However, unlike the Young Scientist award, the Young Global Leader honor is not just limited to scientists and engineers. This recognition includes leaders from all fields, including business, social science, and politics as well as the traditional sciences.

The World Economic Forum describes Young Global Leader candidates as individuals under the age of 40 who are “bold, brave, action-oriented and entrepreneurial…[who] commit both their time and talent to make the world a better place.”

This selection criteria is evident in the diversity of the YGL community members. This year, of the forty-four Young Global Leaders from the United States, only two were professors — one in engineering and one in business. The remaining honorees include members of government, financial and consumer industries and media.

“Andrea Armani is absolutely the best suited for the Young Global Leader award. She is the epitome of the new face of engineering. Her potential is limitless. And we are thrilled that she is on our faculty at USC Viterbi," said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.

As a result of this recognition, Armani has received an invitation to attend the WEF meeting in China this fall where she will have the opportunity to meet the other Young Global Leaders, as well as leaders and policy makers from around the world.

“At the event last year," said Armani, "I mostly interacted with other scientists, but this year I will be part of a different community, and, as a result, I will be invited to participate in programs which are focused not only on changing science, but on changing society.”

The Young Global Leaders community features the most distinguished leaders from around the world, all with varying background and industries, but Armani believes it’s her passion for teaching and mentoring in addition to research excellence that sets her apart from her peers.

“I care a lot about my group members, both as people and as researchers. Performing research is more than just the scientific knowledge generated, it is also about shaping the next generation of scientist or engineer,” Armani said. “It is critical to remember the importance of the mentoring and take time to do it well, even while racing to get a result.”

"I was extremely lucky to have worked for Andrea as an undergrad," said Nishita Deka, currently a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering at UC Berkeley. "She has all the obvious desirable qualities in a mentor – attentive, encouraging, helpful and beyond capable. But the reason why I continue to stay in touch with her and seek her advice is because I know she genuinely cares about each of her students, and that’s a difficult quality to find in anyone."

Just this past month, Armani and Victoria Sun, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering, demonstrated a new method to detect lipid bilayer formation and disruption. Most notably, the technique does not rely on imaging, and therefore, it can monitor the movement of lipids in their natural state. However, given the interdisciplinary nature of the research which combines physics, biology and chemistry, the development of this method was not without several large road bumps which can be frustrating for researchers of any age.

"Professor Armani truly exemplifies the qualities of a transformative researcher and leader in her field," said Sun. "She is not only a remarkable scholar, but also a gifted teacher and dedicated mentor who invests a tremendous amount of time into each of her students. There is a reason why everyone loves working with her. Andrea fosters a sense of community in her lab, emphasizing the importance of open communication and cross disciplinary collaboration, which allows her students to thrive as successful, independent researchers. She encourages us to pursue our wildest project ideas while providing us with the necessary resources and support to see them through. Her dedication to her students, commitment to maintaining the highest caliber of research and enthusiasm in both the classroom and the lab significantly shaped both my professional and personal career goals."

Armani acknowledges that science awards can be hyper-focused on research success only, and appreciates that the Young Global Leaders program looks beyond this usually myopic scope.

“This award is special because it recognizes leaders in different fields, including scientists, who are clearly excelling in their own right, but who also care about society," said Armani. "Very few awards actually reward people for being well-rounded. Many focus on one aspect, essentially encouraging a singular focus, but the Young Global Leaders community challenges us to see success contextually. Success is more than just publishing or patenting – it’s about positively impacting society.”