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Andrea Armani Named Inaugural Holder of the Ray R. Irani Chair in Engineering

| February 26, 2018

The chair adds to the legacy of the Irani family at USC

(From left to right) USC President C.L. Max Nikias, USC Trustee Ray R. Irani, Professor Andrea Armani, USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos (Photo/Steve Cohn)

Before a large crowd in the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, Professor Andrea Armani was installed Feb. 14 as the inaugural holder of the Ray R. Irani Chair in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

Irani, a USC alumnus, holder of 150 patents and former chair and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum, has been a longtime friend of the university.

A USC Trustee, Irani pledged $20 million to USC in 2015 to endow two faculty chairs, create a student support fund and to establish the Ray Irani Residential College at the USC Village. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2012. That same year, Irani was appointed the Judge Widney Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at USC Viterbi and USC Dornsife. Irani obtained his Ph.D. in in chemistry in 1957 from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.

“Dr. Ray Irani is a visionary humanitarian determined to improve human existence,” USC President C.L. Max Nikias said. “Throughout his career, Dr. Irani always retained his ability to motivate and inspire others.”

Armani – a professor of chemical engineering and materials science, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering-electrophysics and chemistry – has received several major honors over the years for her research excellence.

In 2009, she was named as one of the “MIT Technology Review’s” 35 Top Innovators under 35. That same year, Armani received the Office of Naval Research’s Young Investigator Award, which is given to individuals who have demonstrated creativity in their research and are expected to contribute much more in the future to their fields. She is also a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and the International Society for Optics and Photonics. Additionally, Armani serves as the director of the John D. O’Brien Nanofabrication Laboratory.

Yannis Yortsos, dean of USC Viterbi, introduced Armani with a brief anecdote describing how she came to his office the very day she received her offer of employment to hand-deliver her acceptance: “the first and only time I had experienced this in my tenure as dean.”

Added Yortsos: “Dr. Armani represents the best of USC Viterbi. She is passionate about transforming our world; an amazing mentor and leader to our diverse students; and renowned the world over for her outstanding body of work and for great promise.”

The Armani Research Lab does a wide breadth of research: the overarching objective of her work is the development of devices that are applicable in portable disease diagnostics and telecommunications. As such, one of the lab’s main focuses is in creating new technology to better address pressing health problems. A recent lab project was the development of a patch to help the wearer protect against the development of skin cancer – the patch changes color to signal when the wearer has received too much UV ray exposure.

Another focus of the lab is the development of low-cost, portable instruments with implications in diagnosing and prognosing numerous diseases.

One of Armani’s most recent success stories is her use of gold to shrink both the size and necessary energy input of frequency combs, which have applications in many fields including the detection of toxic chemicals. Armani’s team has created frequency combs that require only milliwatts of power, a feat that has been accomplished by attaching gold nanorods to the surface of a microlaser. The interaction of the gold and the light generates more powerful wavelengths with lower input. In other words, the addition of gold means that the frequency combs can function at much lower energy input than ever before. This is essential in enabling residential or portable applications of this technology.

An endowed chair is one of the highest honors a university can bestow on a faculty member. The modern version of the tradition goes back over 500 years and is a position permanently supported by the donor’s endowment. The funding is a way to give extra support to a university’s best and brightest and can help underwrite research and other endeavors.

“I want to thank Dr. Irani for being an inspiration and motivation for all engineers,” Armani said in her acceptance speech. “Thank you very much for this gift, and thank you President Nikias and Dean Yortsos for choosing me.”

Irani shared a few words about the growth that has occurred under President Nikias’ tenure as president of USC, and what he hopes to see in the future.

“One of the priorities that Max has brought to fruition is the use of multiple disciplines to solve problems,” Irani said, referencing his recent spinal surgery as proof of the progress that can be achieved when researchers from different fields come together and collaborate. “Thank you for bringing this university to great heights and greatness, and I hope that we continue to thrive in all fields.”

According to Nikias, Armani has helped the university reach new heights.

“Dr. Armani is the perfect person to hold this award,” he said. “Not only is she one of the foremost leaders in the field of chemical engineering, but her work does everything.”

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