Kristen Grauman

Jonathan Pillow, assistant professor of Psychology and Neurobiology, is one of three UT professors to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The professors’ innovation and hard work has gained them national recognition along with the highest honor bestowed by their departments. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Although their research topics vary from human-computer communication to the relationships between neuron movement and decision making, three UT professors each won one of the 102 presidential awards given this year to science and engineering professionals in early stages of their research careers.

Kristen Grauman, Mattan Erez and Jonathan Pillow each received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. UT tied with Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley with three award winners. Only Princeton University had more recipients.

Grauman, an associate computer science professor, researches how humans and computers communicate. Her research focuses on methods to efficiently search images.

Adriana Kovashka, a computer sciences graduate student, said doing research with Grauman is enjoyable because Grauman doesn’t get angry with her students if there is a problem with a particular project.

“Working with her is really great,” Kovashka said. “[Grauman] encourages us to come up with our own ideas. She’s always expecting a lot of her students but doesn’t make them feel stressed. She’s reasonable.”

Erez, an associate electrical and computer engineering professor, is working on a super computer with interconnections that can address problems. Erez said he has had a passion for technology since childhood.

“It was something that interested me at a very young age,” Erez said. “I’ve been playing on computers since the first grade.”

Erez said he hopes graduating students work hard to achieve their goals.

“Be committed to what you do and don’t sell yourself short,” Erez said. “Don’t compromise your expectations, and follow your passion.”

Electrical engineering professor Yale Patt said Erez goes out of his way to help his students succeed.

“[Erez] is a good human being and cares about his students,” Patt said. “Anytime you go by his office, there’s a student in there. Mentoring develops the students.”

Pillow, an assistant psychology and neuroscience professor, has done research in neural coding and computation. Through his research, he has been able to learn about different neuron spikes that convey information during decision making.

Pillow said it was difficult for his parents to fully understand his research.

“My own mom has a hard time understanding what it is I do,” Pillow said. “She used to keep a note by the phone so that she could tell our relatives exactly what it was I was doing.”

The three professors will receive their awards at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., later this year.

Though their research topics vary from human-computer communication to the relationships between neuron movement and decision making, three UT professors each won one of the 102 presidential awards given this year to science and engineering professionals in early stages of their research careers.

Kristen Grauman, Mattan Erez and Jonathan Pillow received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. UT tied with the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University with three award winners. Only Princeton University had more recipients.

Grauman, an associate computer science professor, researches how humans and computers communicate. Her research focuses on methods to efficiently search images.

Adriana Kovashka, a computer sciences graduate student, said doing research with Grauman is enjoyable because Grauman doesn’t get angry with her students if there is a problem with a particular project.

“Working with her is really great,” Kovashka said. “Kristen encourages us to come up with our own ideas. She’s always expecting a lot of her students but doesn’t make them feel stressed. She’s reasonable.”

Erez, an associate electrical and computer engineering professor, is working on a super computer with interconnections that can address problems. Erez said he has had a passion for technology since childhood.

“It was something that interests me at a very young age,” Erez said. “I’ve been playing on computers since the first grade.”

Erez said he hopes graduating students work hard to achieve their goals.

“Be committed to what you do and don’t sell yourself short,” Erez said. “Don’t compromise your expectations and follow your passion.”

Electrical engineering professor Yale Patt said Erez goes out of his way to help his students succeed.

“[Erez] is a good human being and cares about his students,” Patt said. “Anytime you go by his office there’s a student in there. Mentoring develops the students.”

Pillow, an assistant psychology and neurobiology professor, has done research in neural coding and computation. Through his research, he has been able to learn about different neuron spikes that convey information during decision making.

Pillow said it was difficult for his parents to fully understand his research.

“My own mom has a hard time understanding what it is I do,” Pillow said. “She used to keep a note by the phone so that she could tell our relatives exactly what it was I was doing.”

The three professors will receive their awards at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. later this year.

Researchers at the University are working to perfect a computer algorithm designed to summarize first-person perspective films, with the hope of aiding the elderly and memory-impaired.

Kristen Grauman, a computer science associate professor and project leader, said her team produced an algorithm capable of analyzing long segments of video and creating short, storyboard summaries. The algorithm uses a combination of machine-learning technology and optimization to predict the important elements in a video and demonstrate how they are connected.

The story-driven video summarization technology is the first of its kind to focus on egocentric video, rather than on video shot from a stationary camera. Grauman said this perspective allows for greater applications of the summarizing feature and may be of use for memory-impaired individuals.

“If you think about who needs a first-person video summarized, you first think about life loggers, people who just do this for fun or for social media,” Gruman said. “But also what I would say are even more serious applications are clinical health or elder care kind of things where you need to monitor someone’s ability to do activities of daily living, or to help them recap or re-experience visual memories to help them jog [their] memory.”

Grauman said that while there are many uses for the technology, her team is focused on developing a more basic application.

“The data that we have now is more of a daily living kind of thing,” Grauman said. “If you talk about commercializing then you could think about specializing for specific application needs. We’re just focused on things we can come up with that would most likely be relevant for any kind of scenario.”

Grauman conducted her initial research with former postdoctoral research fellow Lu Zheng and former doctoral student Yong Jae Lee. Lee said his role focused on how to use machine-learning techniques in order to make the technology predict important objects.

“Since the video can be many hours, we aimed to find the frames that contain the most important people and objects,” Lee said. “In order to find these frames, we train an algorithm to predict important image regions using egocentric cues, like how often objects appear in the center of the frame.”

Zheng said he worked closely with Grauman in order to shape their ideas and formulate solutions to problems they encountered.

“I was mainly responsible for coming out with the research ideas, working on details of the algorithm, programming the algorithm and designing and performing experiments,” Zheng said. “Professor Grauman worked with [us] closely in various ways, such as shaping the initial idea and suggesting possible solutions to difficulties encountered along the way.”

Grauman and her team published several papers over the two years they spent working in this area of computer science, but she said the technology still has a lot of growing and evolving to do.

“We’re just getting better and looking at more technical problems that arise based on what we’ve done so far,” Grauman said. “You could certainly release some version of what we’re researching right now, but there’s just so much room for innovation and improvement.”