PEDLS Yannis C. Yortsos — Lecture

Event Date: January 23, 2024
Speaker: Yannis C. Yortsos, Dean of the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering and the Zohrab Kaprielian Chair in Engineering
Time: 3:00 – 4:00 PM EST
Location: ARMS Atrium
Priority: No
School or Program: Chemical Engineering
College Calendar: Show
The Intertwining of Engineering with Social Phenomena

Yannis C. Yortsos


With the extraordinary advances in technology, including AI and Generative AI in particular, the intertwining of social phenomena with engineering and engineering schools becomes even tighter. A synchronization of Societal and Technical Readiness Levels demands trustworthiness to help bridge these two domains, which importantly must arise from engineering disciplines. As a result, engineering education will have to incorporate human- and social-centric attributes, particularly the development of outstanding character in addition to outstanding technical competence, to endow our graduates with increasing societal trustworthiness. Yortsos will discuss how such attributes are becoming key components of existing and new programs while also forming the new iteration of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, co-conceived at USC in 2009 and winner of the Gordon Prize of the National Academy of Engineering in 2022.

Along a different theme in this intersection, the quantitative understanding of social phenomena, e.g., in quantitative social sciences and economics, has benefited from the introduction of physical analogs and models (Econophysics). Yortsos suggests that additional new insights also can be offered from parallels with a different scientific field, and as presented in this talk, from chemical engineering. Yortsos will discuss some elementary such processes, where analogies with social phenomena can provide new insights. One possible result is the emergence of a singularity, namely faster than exponential growth, in innovation, that appears to characterize the recent extraordinarily fast pace of AI discussed previously. Related applications, including modeling contagion, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are also beneficiaries of such an approach and will be briefly discussed.


Yannis C. Yortsos is the dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the Zohrab Kaprielian Chair in Engineering. He received a BS (diploma) in chemical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, and MS and PhD degrees from the California Institute of Technology, all in chemical engineering.

Yortsos was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 2008 and served on the NAE council from 2017-2023. In 2022, he received the Gordon Prize of the NAE for co-founding the Grand Challenges Scholars Program. The same year, he was a co-recipient of a Los Angeles area Emmy for the USC Viterbi documentary “Lives Not Grades,” which documented the journey of USC engineering students to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos and their effort to provide technology solutions to improve the refugees’ condition.

Yortsos has articulated the concept of Engineering+, which positions engineering as the empowering discipline of our times and the discipline that helps engineer a better world for all humanity. He has advocated a change of conversation about engineering and, in 2015, spearheaded an engineering diversity initiative that is now adopted by more than 230 engineering schools. As a result of this change in narrative, USC Viterbi attracts a large number of previously under-represented demographic groups in engineering. Since 2019, the entering fall class has been gender-balanced.

He is an associate member of the Academy of Athens and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2017 he received the ASEE’s President’s Award. Since November 2022 he has served as the editor-in-chief of PNAS Nexus, founded in 2021, as the only other scientific journal of the National Academies in more than 100 years.

Hosted by the College of Engineering and the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering.