Li Named Chair of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Duke

10/17 Pratt School of Engineering

Hai “Helen” Li, a world-renowned scholar working on next-generation computers, will lead Duke ECE through 2025

Hai "Helen" Lee of Duke University
Li Named Chair of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Duke

Hai “Helen” Li has been appointed chair of Duke’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. A world-renowned scholar working across hardware and software applications in the development of next-generation computing machinery, Li has served as interim chair since spring and will now lead the department until June 2025.

“Even before her appointment as acting chair, Helen was a highly visible leader of Duke’s brain-inspired computing research and a tireless advocate for Duke ECE,” said Jerome Lynch, Vinik Dean of Engineering at Duke. “Helen’s leadership and vision for the future of the electrical and computer engineering disciplines will be instrumental to the department over the coming years. I look forward to our continued partnership as the department and our school continues to explore the frontier spaces of advanced computing.”

“Duke ECE will work to enrich and innovate undergraduate and graduate curricula to prepare next-generation workforce and future leaders for engineering and entrepreneurship, strengthen its commitment to diversity in faculty and student recruitment, and expand an inclusive and engaging community.”

Hai “Helen” Li | Chair, Duke ECE

Li, the Clare Boothe Luce Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, pursues broad research interests in hardware and software co-design to bridge the gap between the hardware and deep learning communities. Rather than building general processors not optimized for any specific task, co-design puts hardware engineers and software designers together to create new architectures tailored to fulfill specific needs. Depending on the task at hand, for example, this could make the operation simpler and more power-efficient or give it more power and higher performance.

She is globally renowned for her pioneering research in neuromorphic computing systems—next-generation computer hardware designs based on the human brain. Li is a global leader in the field, possessing a deep knowledge of machine learning techniques and applications. She and her students have won numerous awards and recognitions, including nine best-paper awards. 

Li brings extensive experience in both academics and industry to her new role, with stints at New York University and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as industry leaders Qualcomm, Intel, and Seagate. She is a 2022 fellow of Drexel University’s Executive Leadership in Academic Technology, Engineering and Science (ELATES), the national academic STEM leadership development program for women.

“It’s an honor to be appointed to lead the remarkable and talented faculty, staff, and student community at Duke ECE and to facilitate and deepen our relationships with collaborators across Duke,” Li said. “It will take teams to solve the biggest challenges facing our society. I am proud that Duke ECE has a deep interdisciplinary culture and serves as an important meeting place for the applied sciences at Duke.“

“Helen’s leadership and vision for the future of the electrical and computer engineering disciplines will be instrumental to the department over the coming years.”

Jerome P. Lynch, PhD, F.EMI | Vinik Dean of Engineering at Duke

With 58 tenure-track faculty and more than 570 PhD and master’s students and 230 undergraduate students, Duke ECE is home to 10 major externally funded research centers in AI/machine learning, quantum computing, acoustic and optical metamaterials, and environmental protection.

Among Li’s chief priorities as chair will be to showcase and expand the department’s strengths in crosscutting research areas as well as to advance Duke ECE to the next level of excellence.

“We’re fortunate to have outstanding students and faculty, and will continue to focus on recruiting the best and brightest talent,” said Li. “The department will work to enrich and innovate undergraduate and graduate curricula to prepare next-generation workforce and future leaders for engineering and entrepreneurship, strengthen its commitment to diversity in faculty and student recruitment, and expand an inclusive and engaging community.”

At Duke, Li is the co-founder of the first National Science Foundation (NSF) IUCRC center dedicated to computing hardware of AI with two dozen affiliated industrial collaborators. Li is also the co-leader of the NSF AI Institute for Edge Computing Leveraging Next-Generation Networks (ATHENA), with a $20 million total investment.

She is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)—a high honor bestowed on the foremost leaders of the field.

Electrical & Computer Engineering at Duke

  • Duke ECE ‘s faculty research groups are designing creative solutions to pressing challenges in human health, physical and digital security, and automation
  • Signature research themes include AI and machine learning, metamaterials, quantum computing, nanoelectronics, sensing and imaging technologies, and trustworthy computing
  • New research awards are $40 million annually
  • Faculty innovation has spun out more than 20 startups
  • Educational offerings include master’s degree concentrations in software development, hardware design, data analytics, machine learning and quantum computing

More about Duke ECE