Shri Narayanan named inaugural Nikias Chair in Engineering

Professor Shri Narayanan of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering received the Niki and C. L. Max Nikias Chair in Engineering. This honor is the first formal recognition in Nikias’ name.

Narayanan is a professor of electrical engineering, computer science, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience and pediatrics. He has served as director of the Ming Hsieh Institute of Electrical Engineering since 2010, and director of the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab since 2005.

Nikias recruited Narayanan nearly two decades ago, when Nikias was a Viterbi professor.

“One of my most enduring and heartfelt achievements while at USC Viterbi was to help recruit Shri,” Nikias said to USC News. “Seventeen years ago, one could not overestimate his towering intellect and creativity.”

Narayanan’s lab focuses on                human-centered technologies. By using data scientific approaches to understand human cognition, aspects of human behavior are explored further. In the context of this, Narayanan wants to bring greater understanding to mental health.

“We are trying to find more objective ways of diagnosing autism, as well as understanding changes in behavior in response to the treatment,” he said.

Additionally, Narayanan’s work spreads to media studies, particularly focusing on unconscious biases and their representation in media and the effect this has on society.                                                                                                        

Narayanan’s work is unique in that it brings mathematics and computer science into the equation.

“These subjects traditionally have been dealt with very qualitatively,” Narayanan said. “We try to combine multiple perspectives from different fields like engineering, psychology and linguistics.”

By bringing objective quantitative analysis to psychotherapy, Narayanan hopes to better understand the mental condition of patients in addiction therapy and counseling.

Nikias presented the award to Narayanan on Feb. 15 at Tutor Hall.

“I feel very honored and excited, because [Nikias] is a leader in the field I’ve worked in,” Narayanan said. “He’s also one of my mentors. It’s very meaningful for me on both a personal and a professional level.”