“Looking for a needle in a haystack – in the middle of a tornado.” Sani’s quest to decipher emotions and the brain.

Omid Sani

Omid Sani: 2021 USC Viterbi Best Dissertation Winner

When Omid Sani joined the USC Viterbi School of Engineering as a Ph.D. student in 2015, he knew he wanted to combine his background in biomedical and electrical engineering in new ways.

This interdisciplinary interest led him to the Neural Systems Engineering and Information Processing Lab (NSEIP) and its accomplished young leader, Maryam Shanechi, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Early Career Chair and associate professor in electrical and computer engineering.

Now, nearly six years later, he has been awarded the William F. Ballhaus Jr. Prize for Excellence in Graduate Engineering Research – given annually to the USC Viterbi Ph.D. student considered to have the best dissertation.

Sani’s research has allowed us to better understand how mood is represented in the brain. No small feat considering that the brain has been called “the most complicated object in the known universe” and emotions are some of the most complex and least-understood aspect of human consciousness. His dissertation, “Modeling and Control of Behaviorally Relevant Brain States,” represents a major step forward in how we understand and treat a whole host of neurological and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“I am very proud of Omid’s amazing accomplishments at USC. His work has been key in our development of brain-machine interfaces with the potential to transform therapies for refractory neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders for tens of millions of patients,” said Shanechi.

Read Omid’s Story