Mariachi music and jazz standards enlivened the multi-school Fair last Saturday sponsored by Los Angeles Unified School District’s Local District East. Families with students attending these schools stopped at many of the Festival’s over 80 booths. While kids clambered to have their faces painted, parents spoke earnestly with principals, teachers, or college recruiters about their children’s futures. Librarians handed out free book bags. Even amid all of the trophies, prize-winning robots, and middle school actors in period costume, long lines led up to the USC booth, where three USC Viterbi Professors introduced students to Biomedical Engineering and Artificial Intelligence.
Professor Dilkina encourages a student solving the imaginary challenge of distributing ice cream.
Professor Zavaleta explains to a student dressed in her lab coat how she finds new ways to fight cancer.
Professor Vayanos (R) goes into depth with a student working on the ice cream challenge (while he eats an ice cream).
Under a sign declaring “Conozca Una Professor Aqui,” Professor Cristina Zavaleta invited each child to put on a lab coat, latex gloves, and protective eye wear before mixing colors in a test tube and looking for fluorescence. The exciting colors are an important part of Zavaleta’s research in USC Viterbi’s Biomedical Engineering Department. Focused on developing and testing new ways to diagnose cancer and also helping surgeons to better find and remove tumors, Zavaleta’s research is on the front lines of new cancer fighting strategies through use of new techniques based on fluorescence.
LAUSD Local District East Superintendent, Jose Huerta (R), speaks with Professor Bistra Dilkina (L), about computer science education in his District.
Imaginatively planning how to get the most ice cream to the most kids was the other popular activity at the USC booth. The solution requires using computational thinking, which is why so many students sat down with Bistra Dilkina, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, and Phebe Vayanos, Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Dilkina and Vayanos challenged students to plan a way to position ice cream trucks in a neighborhood so that children only need to walk one block to get to the ice cream. See if you can solve it yourself.
Computational thinking and pattern recognition are the basis of research in Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Optimization. Both Professors work in the exciting new area of applying Artificial Intelligence for social good. Vayanos uses data to find optimal ways to deliver goods and services in ways that help fight homelessness, suicide, and other serious social problems. Similarly, Professor Dilkina’s work is based in Artificial Intelligence and algorithms in order to improve biodiversity, conservation, and urban planning. Vayanos and Dilkina both serve as Associate Directors of the Center for AI in Society (CAIS).
These young ones made it to the front of the line to get their gloves, glasses and lab coats to study fluoresence.
Two brothers who attend Our Lady of Talpa School had fun with Professor Dilkina.
Professor Vayanos (L, rear) and Professor Zavaleta (R, rear) enjoy empowering girls to study engineering.
USC Viterbi School of Engineering Professors are well known in the community for their dedication to public outreach. Engineering research changes so fast that all three Professors are working in areas that did not even exist five years ago. Given how challenging it is for engineers to stay informed about these changes, USC Viterbi Professors realize the value of spending a Saturday morning at a festival so that the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers can get excited about the new set of tools that society has available to improve health, protect endangered species, and help end homelessness.
Professoras Dilkina, Zavaleta, and Vayanos (L to R) spent Saturday sharing the broader impacts of their research with families of east Los Angeles.