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Huang elected to top academic institution in Taiwan

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By Bridget Maiellaro and Charlie Johnson, ECE Illinois
October 9, 2008

Thomas S. Huang
Thomas S. Huang

ECE Professor Thomas S. Huang was recently named a 2008 Academician by Academia Sinica, a preeminent academic institution in the Republic of China (Taiwan).

“It is very difficult to get in,” said Huang, the William Everitt Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It is really a high honor to be inducted.”

Elected to the Academia Sinica’s Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Huang was among 19 newly selected Academicians. The announcement was made at the academic organization’s biennial Convocation of Academicians on July 4. Huang will have to wait until the summer of 2010, when the Academia Sinica has its biennial convocation to be officially inducted.

The institution has approximately 250 Academicians in the fields of mathematics and physical sciences, life sciences, and humanities and social sciences, according to its Web site. Academia Sinica, located in Taipei, Taiwan, aims to promote international cooperation and enhance research activities in these fields.

“To be elected, you have to have made some major contributions to your area of research,” said Huang. “It’s more for a whole body instead of a particular contribution.” Huang said he received the award mainly for his work on computer vision and image processing.

Huang received his bachelor’s degree from National Taiwan University in 1956. He then obtained his master’s and doctor of science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1960 and 1963, respectively. Huang then taught at MIT for 10 years and at Purdue University for seven. He joined the University of Illinois Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in 1980.

Huang is not the only member of ECE to receive the prestigious award. “This year was special because two of us from ECE got elected,” said Huang. ECE Professor Emeritus Shung-Wu “Andy” Lee also received the award. With multiple members of the ECE faculty having been elected, ECE’s reputation figures to grow abroad, especially in Taiwan.

“The ECE department has been trying to build up connections in Taiwan. This will definitely help ECE’s reputation in Taiwan,” said Huang.

Throughout his career, Huang has helped pioneer a variety of image and video processing algorithms. Working on compression as a graduate student in 1958, he developed a number of compression techniques for documents and images that today are used in international compression standards. He also focused on deriving three-dimensional information from two-dimensional sequences, which he believes will become more evident in the next few years.

Huang’s current research focuses on signal processing and analysis, as he works with images, video, speech, and acoustic signals. He is currently working on a variety of applications with his soft biometrics research group. One of his most recent projects involves implementing a text messaging system that delivers the message with a talking face that shows emotions instead of plain text. Other applications include assessing a person’s gender through face or speech or a combination of both, as well as estimating a person’s age. His research team is also creating algorithms to track body movements and obtain cues that may help determine a person’s gender.

“The research is going great,” said Huang. “I have a large group of students and they are really outstanding so we are doing exciting things.” A group of Huang’s students were recently named finalists in the Star Challenge. The goal of the competition, which is sponsored by the government of Singapore, is to create software that can root out specific pieces of information from large chunks of audio and video, much like how search engines look for specific words or phrases in large blocks of text. Huang’s students are the only American group remaining in the competition.

Over the years, Huang has received numerous recognitions and honors in research and teaching. He received the Honda Lifetime Achievement Award for Contributions to Motion Analysis in 2000, the IEEE Jack Kilby Medal in 2001, and the IBM Faculty Award in 2002 and 2003. This year alone, he served as an Honorary Chair at the Association of Computing Machinery Conference on Content-Based Image and Video Retrieval as well as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition.

Huang is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (U.S.) and a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. He has been a Fellow of IEEE and the Optical Society of America since1979 and 1986, respectively. He was named the William L. Everitt Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1996. In addition, Huang has co-authored eight textbooks, edited or co-edited 18 publications, contributed to 107 book chapters, and served as a keynote speaker at nearly 30 conferences throughout the world.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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