MIT taps USC Viterbi programmer as a top innovator
Hao Li, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has been named one of the world’s top innovators under 35, according to the annual list announced by MIT Technology Review.
“Being part of this year’s list is an amazing honor and recognition for all the years of hard work,” said Li, who was recognized for his work in the field of software and its application to visual effects. “I owe this success to all my collaborators, mentors, friends and USC.”
Since 2009, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website, seven of USC’s faculty members have been selected as TR 35 young innovators. In the last five years, no other school of engineering around 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.
Li, 32, was inspired to get into programming by the computer-generated visual effects he saw 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 has employed those skills advancing real-time performance capture technology for the eagerly awaited Star Wars: Episode VII.
Li’s work serves the entertainment industry, as well as medicine. 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 USC Viterbi as a tenure-track assistant professor. At USC, 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 trendsetters who have been recognized by MIT Technology Review. Previous winners include Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive and Tumblr creator David Karp. The other six USC Viterbi faculty members selected for the list were Andrea Armani (2009), Ellis Meng (2009), Michelle Povinelli (2010), Jernej Barbič (2011), Bhaskar Krishnamachari (2011) and Burcin Becerik-Gerber (2012). Maja Matarić, vice dean for research at USC Viterbi, was selected in 1999 in a previous version of the list.
This year’s honorees will be featured online and in the September/October print magazine available at newsstands on Sept. 3. They will also appear in person at MIT’s Conference on the Emerging Technologies That Matter to take place in Cambridge, Mass., in October.