Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

GUMC Professor Receives Major Federal Grant

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Georgetown University Medical Center neurologist Maximilian Riesenhuber a $742,000 grant for his research in the field of vision and object recognition.

Riesenhuber will use the CAREER grant over the next five years to create a computational model for the study of object recognition and higher brain functioning.

“We are trying to do computational modeling with higher brain functioning,” Riesenhuber said. “The brain is very complex. If you look at disorders, it becomes a problem that we don’t have an idea how the brain is doing high level tasks.”

Riesenhuber’s research focuses on how the brain processes visual information and recognizes images as objects. Riesenhuber said that his computational model may, for example, be applied to recognition technology for ATMs, which currently do not have adequate facial recognition programs.

Object recognition data could also be used in satellite imaging, Riesenhuber said.

“The side benefit is that once we understand how the brain is doing that processing and have the computational model, it has different applications,” he said. “If I show you an image, is there a face or object there or not? Or in satellite image analysis, can we get the computational model to do it better or faster?”

The computational model has other uses. Riesenhuber said that many people with autism may have difficulty recognizing faces or deciphering facial expressions, which can lead to difficulty relating to others and gauging different emotional states.

“Neural disorders are not all or nothing,” he said. “It’s a very graded phenomenon. With autism, they can still see faces but may have difficulty recognizing them. It’s the same with dyslexia. People can still see words and pages, but have trouble putting them together in order to read.”

Reisenhuber said the scientific study in neurology is often “data poor” due to the difficulty of studying a single neuron when there are millions in the brain.

Riesenhuber’s goal in conducting human experiments at Georgetown will be to integrate all the different forms of data in order to understand the processes of the brain.

“It’s a very exciting time right now because on one hand we have experimental techniques and on the other hand, here at Georgetown, we now have computational resources,” he said.

“We are proud that Max Riesenhuber’s research has been recognized by the

National Science Foundation,” said Vassilios Papadopoulos, director of the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization at GUMC. “His work to study vision and brain activity will contribute in a variety of ways to a more complete understanding of how the human brain processes information.”

In addition to the NSF CAREER grant, Riesenhuber was also awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health. The focus of study under the NIH grant uses the same techniques, but encompasses a behavioral model to look at neural disorders rather than normal brain studies.

“With the NSF grant, we’re really trying to push the envelope to understand processing in the `normal brain,’ the human brain, for instance, how we categorize stimuli, how do we learn labeling and do real world object recognition,” he said. “The NIH uses the same technique to understand more about neural disorders.”

Once science has a better grasp on the different data-processing systems of the brain, this knowledge can be used to help people neural disorders improve object recognition, he said.

The NSF CAREER grant is given to the most promising early-career development programs of teacher-scholars. Riesenhuber was given one of five CAREER awards this year.

More to Discover