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Ray Irani, Michael Waterman Elected to NAE

February 10, 2012

Ray R. Irani (left) and Michael Waterman have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Ray R. Irani (left) and Michael Waterman have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

USC trustee Ray R. Irani Ph.D. ’57 and USC University Professor Michael Waterman have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

An alumnus of USC Dornsife, Irani is executive chairman of the Occidental Petroleum Corp. and namesake of the university’s Ray R. Irani Hall. Waterman, professor of biological sciences and mathematics in USC Dornsife and professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, holds the USC Associates Chair in Natural Sciences.

Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering research, practice or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature" and to the "pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing and implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.”

USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Elizabeth Garrett said: “Our university community is enriched, advanced and inspired when the extraordinary achievements of our renowned faculty and trustees are recognized by election into a most prestigious professional academy such as the National Academy of Engineering.

“Dr. Irani’s leadership in the chemical and petroleum industries and University Professor Waterman’s prolific scientific research, particularly his groundbreaking integration of computer and biological sciences, have firmly established them as transformative figures in their respective fields.”

USC Viterbi dean Yannis C. Yortsos added: “Michael Waterman’s election into the National Academy of Engineering is a resounding confirmation of his remarkable and pioneering work in computational biology. We cannot be more pleased that the academy has bestowed this highest honor upon him. Ray Irani too has had a transformational effect on the oil industry as CEO of Occidental and we are very pleased to see his contributions recognized at the National Academy level."

USC Dornsife dean Howard Gillman said: “Mike Waterman is a true trailblazer whose groundbreaking research has enabled countless advances in the computational and life sciences. He has been central to building USC Dornsife's world-renowned program in molecular and computational biology that is proudly housed in Ray R. Irani Hall — a fitting coincidence given our USC trustee and USC Dornsife alumnus Dr. Ray Irani also has been elected to the academy this year. We are so pleased that these remarkable members of our community have been nationally lauded for their incredible efforts."

Alongside 65 other new members and 10 foreign associates, the NAE recognized Irani for his leadership in the petrochemical industry and for processes for applications of particulate systems. Waterman was recognized for the development of computational methods for DNA and protein sequence analyses.

Irani, who received his doctorate in chemistry from USC in 1957, was named executive chairman of Occidental Petroleum last May after serving as chairman and CEO from 1990 to 2011. He has published more than 50 technical papers and holds more than 150 U.S. and foreign patents. He is the author of the book Particle Size and serves on the board of directors of the American Petroleum Institute, Wynn Resorts and The TCW Group Inc.

He is chairman of the USC Board Personnel Committee. He also is co-chairman of the board of the American University of Beirut and a member of the board of governors of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

In 1994, Irani was appointed by former President Clinton to the President’s Export Council, the premier national advisory committee on international trade, where he served as chairman of the subcommittee on Europe, Japan and newly independent states until 2001. From 2002 to 2006, he served on the Secretary of Energy’s advisory board. In September 2006, he was asked by former President George W. Bush to join a White House-sponsored Task Force for Humanitarian Relief in Lebanon.

Irani received the USC Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Asa V. Call Achievement Award, in 1997 and the 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Chemistry.

Widely regarded as the founding father of computational biology, Waterman’s research concentrates on the creation and application of mathematics, statistics and computer science to molecular biology, particularly to DNA, RNA and protein sequence data. He is co-developer of the Smith-Waterman algorithm for sequence comparison and of the Lander-Waterman formula for physical mapping.

Waterman came to USC in 1982. Named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1995, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that same year and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. He also is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the International Society of Computational Biology and the French Académie of Sciences. In 2000, he became the first fellow of Celera Genomics and received the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2002.

Waterman received the Presidential Medallion, USC’s top honor, in 2008, USC Dornsife’s Award for Excellence in 2004 and the Albert S. Raubenheimer Outstanding Faculty Award in 2009.