Vision Computer Scientist Marc Pomplun
In the not-too-distant future, Marc Pomplun could well be described as one of the founding fathers of visual systems for giving or restoring sight to human beings, as well as the silicon-based computers, cyborgs, and robots portrayed in utopian or dystopian literature and film.
“Most of my work during the past five years has been devoted to studying the human visual system through experimentation and modeling,” says Pomplun.
He goes on to explain that more than half of the neurons in the human brain participate in the processing of visual information. Thus a better understanding of the functional nature and structure of the “visual system” would be beneficial to the medical treatment of a wide range of cognitive disorders. Just as significantly, such an understanding may enable researchers to build more powerful artificial systems for performing visual tasks or interacting with human users.
Pomplun’s main experimental paradigm for these studies is the recording of human eye movements during the performance of visual tasks. These eye movements are recorded using an eye-tracking system, for example, the EyeLink-II and EyeLink-2k systems in his Visual Attention Laboratory.
“The insight into cognitive processes gained through eye-movement recording is mainly derived from the close correspondence between eye movements and visual attention,” says Pomplun. “In visual tasks, eye movements are always preceded by shifts of attention and thus are excellent indicators of the time course of a person’s spatial attention while performing a given task.”
Visual attention is a key mechanism for the conscious processing of visual information and thereby integrates at all levels of processing from the perception of simple features such as color and luminance to semantic relations in real-world scenes to the conception of complex problem-solving strategies.
Pomplun believes that teaching informs research and research informs teaching.
“My teaching does not only happen in the classroom, but also in my Visual Attention Lab. Besides being a research facility, this lab is also a place for teaching and mentoring post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, and even high school students.”
Since 2007, three students working in Pomplun’s lab have received their PhD degrees, and another four students have received their master’s degrees, two of whom wrote their theses under his supervision.
Just as rewarding to Pomplun are the six undergraduate students who have worked with him during this period. Four of those students were recipients of UMass Boston Undergraduate Research Funding Awards for their studies.
As another contribution to his own teaching and the teaching of computer science globally, Pomplun is writing a computer science textbook for undergraduate students titled Hands-On Computer Vision to be published by World Scientific Publishers later in 2013. All major computer vision topics are covered, together with their mathematical foundations and biological counterparts.
By also providing students hands-on experience in building computer vision systems from the ground up, Pomplun believes his book will equip students with the skills necessary for developing professional vision solutions or conducting computer vision research in graduate school.