Khan Iftekharuddin to be Honored at Provost’s Spotlight on March 2
By David Simpson
Khan Iftekharuddin's path to becoming one of the world's top scientists began with a Reader's Digest article he read as a boy.
Dr. Iftekharuddin, a professor in Old Dominion University's Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, will talk about his life and work at the spring Provost's Spotlight, on March 2 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. (See Zoom link below.)
He is also the associate dean for research and graduate programs in the Batten College of Engineering & Technology, as well as director of the Vision Lab.
A tireless scholar, he ranges widely among such realms as biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence (AI), defense, cybersecurity, transportation and the environment. In the fall he received the 2020 ODU Faculty Research, Scholarship and Creative Teaching Award; he previously was honored as a top researcher at the University of Memphis and at North Dakota State University. In addition, his name appears in Stanford University's recent ranking of the most-cited scientists worldwide.
In advance of the Spotlight, he took time to answer a few questions from the Center for Faculty Development.
Tell us about your early life and what drew you to electrical engineering. Was there an "aha!" moment?
I was born in Bangladesh and raised there during my early years. My parents sent me to a boarding school in seventh grade, and that was where I was exposed to technology. I came across an article in Reader's Digest that discussed the emerging field of artificial intelligence, and it caught my attention. I knew in my high school that I would like to be a computer engineer. There was no computer engineering program at that time in Bangladesh. The closest I could do was a B.S. in electrical and electronic engineering, and that was what I did.
What led you to academia and to ODU?
My dad was a professor in a university in Bangladesh, and he retired as a provost of a public university. Teaching ran in my family — my grandfather, father and three of my uncles were teachers. This always motivated me to teaching.
At ODU, I was hired in 2011 as the director of Vision Lab.
Tell us a little about the Vision Lab and how it has grown or changed under your leadership.
The Vision Lab aims to develop algorithms, architectures and real-world implementations in the areas of human- and machine-centric recognition, biomedicine, geoscience and the environment, based on the disciplines of computer vision, signal/image processing and machine learning (ML).
This is an interdisciplinary lab with a diverse research portfolio funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA, the Department of Defense, government labs and non-profit entities, among others. We attract students from electrical engineering, computer engineering and computer science at all levels. In recent years, the Vision Lab has expanded its funded research in areas of global and national importance — including human health, resilient transportation, sea level rise and climate change, defense, and security — to Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) students.
What is an example of your biomedical research? Of your cybersecurity research?
We have multiple examples of biomedical, AI/ML and cybersecurity research at the Vision Lab site.
One of the longest-running projects in my lab involves brain tumor modeling, detection, grading and patient survival prediction. This project has been funded by NIH for over a decade. Another biomedical project involves the effort to identify facial expressions and other sensory signals that children with autism may display during social interactions and to provide a framework for future intervention design.
Another interesting program we are co-organizing is the NSF REU site in Deep Learning for Cybersecurity. This REU site has been running for five years and brings about 10 undergraduate students from all over the U.S. to ODU over each summer for 10 weeks of hands-on research experience.
To what do you owe the wide diversity of your research? Is there a thread that connects it all?
We have always been interested in multidisciplinary research and believe that interesting discovery happens at the intersection of disciplines. This guided me to work with colleagues from across engineering disciplines (civil and transportation, mechanical and aerospace, systems engineering, modeling and simulation), mathematics, computer science, psychology and others. This helped me to understand and work on a diverse field of research challenges.
The thread that connects it all is AI/ML, image processing and computer vision, coding, and mathematics. All my graduate students in the Lab are required to take relevant courses from electrical and computer engineering, computer science and mathematics as they will need these skills for their research.
The Provost's Spotlight is scheduled for 3:30 to 5 p.m. March 2, via Web conference. CFD Director Dr. Annette Finley-Croswhite will host the event.
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