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Columbia’s Shree Nayar awarded Okawa Prize for contributions to digital photography

He is only the third Indian-origin winner of the prestigious prize

shree-nayar-christine-keeley Dr Shree K. Nayar currently heads the Columbia Vision Laboratory | Christine Keeley

Columbia University professor Dr Shree K. Nayar has been awarded The Okawa Prize for his ground-breaking work on computer vision and computational imaging. If your mobile phone camera is exceeding your expectations, Nayar is one of the scientists who deserve your thanks.

A Columbia University statement said: “It is estimated that more than one billion smartphone users worldwide are using his technology on a daily basis.” Nayar hails from Thiruvananthapuram, but lives and teaches in New York.

Nayar was awarded The Okawa Prize for “the invention of innovative imaging techniques and their widespread use in digital photography and computer vision.” The prize instituted by The Okawa Foundation for Information and Telecommunications comprises a gold medal and a citation. The awards ceremony will be held in Tokyo in March 2023.

The Okawa Prize has been awarded every year since 1992. Until 1995, it was awarded to only one Japanese scientist every year. From 1996, the prize honours two scientists—one Japanese and one international candidate. Only two Indian-origin scientists have won it before Nayar—Dr Raj Reddy (2004) and Dr J.K. Aggarwal (2007).

Nayar is currently the T. C. Chang Professor of Computer Science at the university and heads the Columbia Vision Laboratory (CAVE), which develops computational imaging and computer vision systems. According to the university website: “His research is focused on three areas—the creation of novel cameras that provide new forms of visual information, the design of physics-based models for vision and graphics, and the development of algorithms for understanding scenes from images.”

Nayar graduated in electrical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, and completed his postgraduation from North Carolina State University. He then took forward his research at The Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, for three years before joining Hitachi as a visiting research scientist for a year. In 1990, he was awarded a PhD by Carnegie Mellon University, following which he moved to Columbia University, where he continues to work.

Among many other awards, Nayar has received the David Marr Prize twice (1990 and 1995), the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship in 1992, the National Young Investigator Award in 1993, the NTT Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award in 1994, the Keck Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1995 and the Columbia Great Teacher Award in 2006.

He has also been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Inventors and the Indian National Academy of Engineering. In February 2008, at the young age of 45, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering—the highest honour for an engineer in the United States.