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Newman earns prestigious NSF Fellowship

2016-04-19
Newman Headshot

Ben Newman, a senior majoring in computer science at the School of Informatics and Computing, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Fellowship.

The three-year fellowship, which is awarded based on demonstrated potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the U.S. Science and engineering enterprise, will allow Newman to pay for the cost of his graduate work. The fellowship will be worth a total of at least $138,000.

“It’s really exciting,” said Newman, who also will be graduating with a degree in cognitive science in May. “I think it shows that IU has a strong computer science program. It also shows that all the time and effort that people in this program, as well as the cognitive science program, have devoted to me is paying off.”

Newman’s proposal was based on the computer vision work done in a joint project by Assistant Professor of Informatics and Computing David Crandall and Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences Chen Yu which focused on teaching computers to recognize hands in egocentric video. Newman proposed using algorithms to predict what objects in the scene a person was going to interact with based off the location and velocity of the hand in the frame.

“If you can disambiguate a left hand from a right hand, you could potentially, using the location of the hand and where it is in the frame, you can predict what objects in the scene the person is going to interact with,” Newman said. “From that, if you know what objects can be involved—such as a cup of water—then you can predict the activity the person is going to perform. If the cup of water is empty, maybe you can predict that the person is going to go fill it up based on very few and early hand movements.”

Such information could help improve educational tools for people with learning disabilities. It also can create opportunities for automatic coding, and the data could be used to improve human-computer interaction in a virtual reality setting. The proposal would also create a large data set for other researchers to use in their work.

Newman has spent time at IU as an undergraduate instructor, and he has served internships with JP Morgan Chase and Ernst Young. He received a steady stream of Ph.D. admission offers from Computer Science and Cognitive Science programs, and Newman will be attending graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. He also will be affiliated with the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, which is an inter-disciplinary joint venture between CMU and the University of Pittsburgh aimed at understanding the neural basis of cognition.

“My sister described the fellowship as a feather in my academic cap,” Newman said. “It gave me a little more confidence while I was going through the process of choosing a graduate school. I’m really excited.”

For more information on NSF programs, visit their website.

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