University of Southern California

Moving ISI to New Levels of Excellence

July 1, 2013 By: Marc Ballon
Prem Natarajan

Prem Natarajan long held USC and its Information Sciences Institute (ISI) in the highest esteem, seeing them as engines of innovation that create jobs, fuel the economy and benefit the world.

That’s why the former Executive Vice President at Raytheon BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass., is excited to have landed the top position at ISI, one of the nation’s largest and most successful university-affiliated research institutes.

“Over the years, I’ve collaborated with folks from USC and ISI who struck me as world-class talents,” said Natarajan, who holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Tufts University. “I am truly excited to be at ISI, which provides an outstanding platform for exerting an international impact in several key technology areas.”

USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos said he expects Natarajan to contribute significantly to the Institute’s longstanding excellence.

“In the person of Dr. Natarajan, we look for the continuation and growth of the Keith Uncapher and Herb Schorr legacies and the development of a truly exciting new vision for the Institute,” Yortsos said.

At ISI, Natarajan succeeds USC Viterbi Executive Vice Dean John O’Brien, who served as the Institute’s interim Executive Director for 10 months. He said he will work however needed to make Natarajan’s transition as smooth as possible.

O’Brien added that he enjoyed his ISI tenure. “I learned and appreciated much more deeply the breadth and depth of the work going on at the Institute."

Natarajan began his new Executive Director’s position on July 1. He envisions ISI building on its thought-leadership position in areas such as networking, natural language processing, advanced electronics, and quantum computing. Natarajan also expects the Institute to demonstrate leadership and have a major impact in emerging areas such as social media technologies, multimedia information processing, cyber security, and in the role of technology in education.

Natarajan brings a potent mix of managerial experience and scholarship to his new job. During his 17 years at Raytheon, Natarajan made a name for himself both as a mentor and a researcher. He holds four patents.

Growing up in India, Natarajan was conversant in four languages, which partly explains his interest in language processing technologies such as handwriting recognition, speech recognition, and machine translation. He also showed an early interest in science, fashioning a flashlight in fourth grade out of a camphor tin box, a spring, and a light bulb.

“That gave me a little more cachet with my friends,” he said, with a laugh.