USC Viterbi professors, Board of Councilors member elected to National Academy of Engineering

Professors Costas Synolakis and Gerard Medioni and Viterbi Board of Councilors Member Fariborz Maseeh Elected to the NAE
By Caitlin Dawson, Matilda Mathurst and Marc Ballon | February 7, 2023
Election to the National Academy of Engineering is considered the highest honor for engineers

New NAE Inductees Costas Synolakis, Gerard Medioni and Fariborz Maseeh (Photo/USC Viterbi)
NEW NAE INDUCTEES COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, GERARD MEDIONI AND FARIBORZ MASEEH (PHOTO/USC VITERBI)

The National Academy of Engineering announced today that Professor Costas Synolakis, of the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Emeritus Professor Gerard Medioni, of the Department of Computer Science, have been elected into the prestigious academy.

Technology entrepreneur Fariborz Maseeh, a Viterbi Board of Councilors member, philanthropist and namesake of the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition (MEPC), was also elected to the NAE, one of the highest professional honors for engineers.

NAE members are elected by their peers, and the honor is reserved for outstanding engineering accomplishments.

“We are thrilled that our distinguished colleagues Costas Synolakis and Gerard Medioni have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering,” USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said. “This well-deserved honor reflects highly on their career accomplishments, their academic departments and colleagues and the school overall. We are very proud of them.

“We are equally thrilled that our long-time Viterbi Board of Councilors member Fariborz Maseeh was also elected in recognition of his remarkable and lasting contributions to engineering and technology innovation,” Yortsos added.

Synolakis, a renowned scholar whose research has influenced policymaking, focuses on the causes and effects of tsunamis and extreme flooding events, among other natural disasters. Medioni, Ph.D. CS ’83, a trailblazer in computer vision and machine learning, helped pioneer Amazon’s Just Walk Out, a check-out free shopping experience. Maseeh, who holds a doctorate from MIT, has founded or cofounded several successful tech companies and is a member of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Board of Councilors.

The election citation for Synolakis reads: “For the development of predictive models and early warning systems of tsunamis, and for advising policy makers in hazard management.”

Medioni’s citation says: “For contributions to 3D computer vision and vision-based technologies for consumer-facing applications.”

Thirty-seven USC Viterbi-affiliated faculty have been elected to the NAE, including seven in the past five years.

Costas Synolakis

Costas Synolakis is an internationally acclaimed scholar focusing on the impact of natural hazards. His research into the causes and effects of tsunamis and extreme flooding events has played an important role in influencing policy decisions and disaster recovery programs worldwide. His current work focuses on understanding unusual tsunami amplification phenomena and the impact of a changing climate upon extreme weather events.

After growing up in Athens, Greece, Synolakis came to the United States to attend the California Institute of Technology for his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. His early work concentrated on analytical solutions for the climb of solitary waves on plane beaches, based on laboratory experiments. He later developed the highly cited principle known as Synolakis’ law: the relationship between the height of the solitary wave, the beach slope and the offshore depth. This has been widely used for benchmarking numerical codes for water waves.

In 1985, he was appointed assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC. In 1996, the same year that he was made a full professor at USC Viterbi, Synolakis founded the USC Tsunami Research Center. The center’s achievements have included the development of MOST (Method of Splitting Tsunami), the operational code used by U.S. and Australian warning centers for tsunami forecasts. In addition, the center was responsible for the production of all official state maps for evacuation planning in California. Tsunami warning signs along state beaches are a result of his work.

Over the course of his career, Synolakis has led or participated in scientific expeditions in 21 countries. He and his students at USC and the Technical University of Crete, where he formerly held a visiting appointment, have launched numerous public outreach efforts in schools worldwide. Additionally, Synolakis’ work has been broadcast by world media. He is featured in a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and in the climate change exhibition at the Museum of Natural History in Athens.

Synolakis has received the two primary awards of the American Society of Civil Engineers: the 2015 Moffat and Nichol Coastal Engineering Award and the 2019 International Coastal Engineering Award. In 2014, he received the Sergey Soloviev Medal of the European Geophysical Union, and the Hamaguchi Award for Tsunami/Coastal Disaster Resilience Technology in 2020. He is a member of the Academia Europaea, and he holds the Chair of Earth Sciences at the Academy of Athens and the Chair of Greece’s National Scientific Committee on Climate Change.

Gerard Medioni

A professor emeritus of computer science, Amazon vice president and distinguished scientist, Gerard Medioni’s research interests encompass a broad spectrum of topics in computer vision and machine learning. His 40-plus year career includes roles in academia, startups and industry. He earned his Ph.D. from USC in 1983 and served as chair of the Department of Computer Science at USC from 2001 to 2007.

Medioni is the recipient of the 2019 IEEE PAMI Mark Everingham Prize for contributions to the computer vision community. He is a fellow of the International Association of Pattern Recognition (IAPR), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and the Asia-Pacific Artificial Intelligence Association (AAIA).

A prolific inventor, Medioni holds more than 90 patents, and was inducted as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) in 2022. His many innovations include a sensor that provides both image and depth information, which was used as the camera in the Microsoft Kinect, then made its way into the Apple iPhone; a system to quickly turn images of a person into an animated avatar; Amazon’s Just Walk Out, a check-out free shopping experience that allows shoppers to enter a store, grab what they want, and get billed when they leave; and Amazon One, a fast, convenient, contactless identity service that uses your palm to enter, identify, and pay.

Fariborz Maseeh

A renowned expert in the field of micro-electro-mechanical systems, Maseeh founded IntelliSense in 1991 with the goal of reducing time and expense when creating next-generation micro-scale devices. Under his leadership, IntelliSense created the first custom design, development and manufacturing operation and became one of the world’s fastest-growing companies. Named to the New England Technology “Fast 50” and the Forbes’ “Fast 500,” IntelliSense was sold in 2000.

Maseeh later launched Surlamer Investments, a private wealth management firm that invests in private companies, real estate and publicly traded securities.

After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with honors and master’s degree in applied mathematics from Portland State University, Maseeh earned a Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a doctorate in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He serves on the USC Viterbi Board of Councilors.

With a passionate desire to give back, Maseeh founded the Massiah Foundation in 2001. Based on the philosophy of venture philanthropy, the 22-year-old foundation leverages the principles of traditional venture capital (VC) financing to achieve long-lasting positive and broad impacts. In 2010, Massiah donated to USC Viterbi $1 million to establish the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition at USC Viterbi. Over the past decade, the competition has launched several promising companies.

More recently, last year’s winner, Playbook is building an intuitive, code-free design tool for AR and VR experiences. The 2020 MEPC winner, GrayMatter Robotics, uses AI to create smart and rapidly deployable robotic assistants to automate high mix manufacturing tasks, improving quality of life for industrial workers and increasing productivity.

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