5 Scientific Achievements Accomplished Remotely How uSC Viterbi researchers innovated, disrupted, and engaged new frontiers from a distance


Anita Sengupta, NASA researcher and Adjunct Research Associate Professor of Astronautics in the USC Viterbi Department of Astronautical Engineering, developed a supersonic parachute to help land NASA's Curiosity science laboratory on Mars in 2012.

Photo/Gus Ruelas.

The hardest part of Mars entry, descent and landing system design is that you can never actually test your system end-to-end here on Earth before you get to Mars...For me, it was the most exciting thing because it was sending something to a new world in a way we've never done before.

- From Sengupta's interview with The Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2015.

Curiosity continues its mission today. Photo/NASA


A team of researchers from the Robotic Embedded Systems Laboratory programmed and launched underwater robotic gliders to survey the oceans and report data to marine biologists, to help identify dangerous ocean conditions and prevent harm to groups of sea animals.


A group of USC Viterbi students worked with James Finley, an assistant professor of biokinesiology and biomedical engineering and director of the Locomotor Control Lab at the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, to create "Overcome," a virtual reality game for over 10 million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s disease.

“Our goal was to help Parkinson’s patients experience some real feedback during the training,” said Naghmeh Zamani, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student studying robotics. “Different studies have shown that if they work out daily for an hour over a period of three months, Parkinson’s patients can see progress. Introducing haptics and tactile senses into the experience increases their engagement.”


Inspired by a lecture on exploring extra- planetary oceans using robots, a group of five USC Viterbi undergraduates formed a startup called Marlink to develop an underwater wireless communication technology that could allow for greater exploration of the ocean at a lower cost than currently possible.

The goal? Gathering more data on the health of ocean environments, like coral reefs, as well as oil rigs and underwater pipelines.


How it works: Unlike other systems, Marlink “enables the next generation of wireless underwater communication by pairing the robust, long range of acoustic technology with the high data rates of optical technology,” said Maria Camasmie, a former mechanical engineering major who recently switched to narrative studies.

Currently, operators of wireless autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) have to remove them from the water to download data or reprogram them. “So, after deploying an AUV, operators are in the dark about its findings and its status until it completes its preprogrammed mission, resurfaces and is retrieved,” said Siena Applebaum, a mechanical engineering major.

By contrast, Marlink allows the real-time transmission of large data packets within its wireless optical range of about 500 meters. That permits operators to retrieve information from and redirect autonomous underwater vehicles wirelessly, “saving both time and money,” Applebaum said, noting that single AUV resurfacing could cost as much as $50,000.


Did you know gravitational waves exist in the universe? A specialized computer program called Pegasus, created by a team of USC Viterbi scientists at the Information Sciences Institute facilitated the work of scientists who won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of gravitational waves that are powerful enough to ripple throughout space and distort the shape of the cosmos.

Since Pegasus is an open-source software, it is available for other researchers to download without any licensing fees. The USC research team said it has been used for other scientific initiatives, including those at the Southern California Earthquake Center, which uses the software to model seismic hazards in SoCal and predict the flow of an earthquake.

Ewa Deelman, who spearheaded Pegasus’ development as a research professor in computer science and research director for the ISI at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said, “Gravitational waves, like the ones emitted by merging black holes, give a unique insight into how the universe is structured and how it developed. It’s a basic question about nature.”
Created By
Avni Shah