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Engineering Expands Computer Science Faculty, Recruits Leading Researcher From Yale

By Suzanne Trimel

Peter Belhumeur

The Computer Science Department at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science has recruited Peter Belhumeur, one of the country's leading researchers in computer vision, from Yale, and appointed five young faculty members in key research areas such as computer networking, security and engineering. The expansion both builds the department's reputation in an important research field and meets the demands of unprecedented growth in course enrollment.

Belhumeur, who has received White House and National Science Foundation career awards, joins the department as a full professor with tenure. Four others were named assistant professors: Tony Jebara, whose research area is machine learning and multimedia human computer interaction; Vishal Mishra in networking and Angelos Keromytis in security, and Stephen Edwards in embedded systems and computer engineering. Elizabeth Sklar was appointed a lecturer in human and computer learning.

In addition to breakthroughs in computer vision, Belhumeur joins the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science with a strong reputation in research on face recognition, graphic image analysis and virtual environments. He is known for innovative concepts and for forging interdisciplinary links to the physiology of human vision. His research has focused on understanding the nature of illumination and how altering light hitting an image changes the visual appearance of images. The goal is to understand changes in light so that graphic images can become more photo realistic.

Belhumeur was part of the team working jointly with Columbia computer scientist Shree Nayar, director of the Computer Vision Laboratory, who recently developed a computer display that automatically adjusts the appearance of its content according to the illumination of its surroundings. The technology, called Lighting Sensitive Displays, or LSD, enables, for instance, a digital image of a sculpture in a museum to project on a computer display the colors, shadings, highlights and shadows needed to make the sculpture look like it's lit by the surroundings of the display.

He has been a part of a government-funded project that brought together a team of researchers including marine biologists, experts on underwater robotics and computer scientists to tackle a question that has perplexed biologists for centuries: What governs the remarkable ability of schools of fish and flocks of birds to move as a coordinated unit? In addition to taking timed sequences of stereo video images of actual fish in large tanks, the research involved the creation of robotic "fish" to try to understand the means by which individuals in the group communicate with the others to regulate group movement. The answer to this question may offer clues to whether there are universal principles of coordinated group motion. These principles might then be used to design industrial or military applications: to design a school of autonomous submerged vehicles or a coordinated group of ground-based or airborne mobile robots.

Belhumeur, 38, a Brown graduate, has taught at Yale since 1994, the year after he earned his doctorate at Harvard.

"We are delighted that Peter Belhumeur has joined us," said Kathy McKeown, the chairwoman of Computer Science. "He is a world-class researcher and we look forward to his many innovative and productive collaborations at Columbia." McKeown said the department had two goals in its expansion strategy this year: to build a "critical mass" in research areas where Columbia already has a strong reputation and to add faculty to accommodate the large number of students who are majoring in computer science or taking courses, prompted by keen student interest in the digital world. The department's average course section size, at 60 students, was the largest across the university. By increasing faculty, the department expects to reduce class size measurably, she said. With 280 majors, Computer Science is among the top undergraduate majors. With the latest appointments, the department will have 28 full time faculty members.

"In the areas where we already have strength, computer vision, networking and security, computer engineering and human computer interaction, particularly multimedia systems, by adding one or two additional faculty, we are dramatically increasing our visibility and impact in the research world," said McKeown, who believes the department is within reach of becoming one of the top five in the country in these areas.

Jebara just received the Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Keromytis completed his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. Misra was a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Massachusetts. Edwards was most recently a research and development engineer at Synopsys in California and Sklar was an assistant visiting professor at Boston College.

Published: Feb 12, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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