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Texas Awards Indian-American Engineer with Highest Academic Award

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One of Texas’s greatest academic honors, the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in engineering, went to professor and pioneering Indian-origin computer engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan.

Veeraraghavan, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, was selected by TAMEST, the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science, and Technology, to receive this award for emerging researchers in the state because of his ground-breaking imaging technology, which aims to make the invisible visible.

Every year, top researchers in the state who are doing groundbreaking work in the fields of engineering, medicine, biology, physics, and technology innovation are given this award.

According to a TAMEST statement, Veeraraghavan received this year’s engineering award in recognition of his group’s “revolutionary imaging technology that seeks to make the invisible visible.”

Veeraraghavan, who is originally from Chennai and spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence there, said to PTI, “I am honored to receive this award. In order to address imaging challenges that are otherwise outside the purview of current technologies, Veeraraghavan’s computational imaging lab conducts research on imaging processes holistically, from optics and sensor design to machine learning processing algorithms. This is in recognition of the wonderful and innovative research that many students, postdocs, and research scientists at Rice University have done over the last ten years.

“Most imaging systems today are designed in a way that does not take all these three things into account together; they are designed separately,” Veeraraghavan said.

“Co-design opens up new degrees of freedom and allows us to achieve some imaging functionalities or performance capabilities that are otherwise not possible,” he added.

Veeraraghavan’s research seeks to provide solutions for imaging scenarios where the visualisation target is inaccessible to current imaging technologies due to the scattering of light in participating media.

“There are many examples of this,” he said.

“One familiar example is when you’re driving a car and it’s foggy, so you can’t see too far out. In this case, fog acts as the scattering medium. If you’re doing satellite imaging, clouds can act as the scattering medium. And if you’re doing biological imaging, it’s skin that acts as the obscurant so you can’t see blood cells or the structure of the vascular system, for example,” he explained.

“In all of these contexts, the main challenge is that light interacts with the participating media and scatters, which means you lose information about the image you are trying to capture. I think imaging through scattering media is one of the most challenging problems that’s left in imaging. So that is what the core focus of my lab is, and we’ve made significant advances toward solving that problem.” Luay Nakhleh, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering and professor of computer science and biosciences at Rice, congratulated Veeraraghavan for his achievement saying he “richly deserves this special recognition”.

“In fact, this is extra special for our school since it is the second year in a row that one of our faculty receives the O’Donnell Award, with Jamie Padgett being last year’s recipient.” Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Rice’s executive vice president for research and a professor of materials science and nanoengineering, physics and astronomy, praised Veeraraghavan and underscored the impact of his research.

“I’m so pleased to see Ashok recognised with the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award, joining an accomplished group of prior Rice University recipients of the honour,” Ramesh said.

“Ashok has used math and technology to solve some of the most difficult problems in imaging. His work has broad applications for the advancement of human health, microscopy, national security, autonomous vehicles, photography and so much more.”

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