I grew up in Skokie, Illinois, which is probably best known for its reference in The Usual Suspects or the Supreme Court case National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. I remember biking everywhere—to Northwestern’s lake-side campus and Lake Michigan beaches or through the forest preserves south all the way to downtown Chicago or north to the botanical gardens.
Where did you earn your higher-ed degrees?
I started at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York where I earned three separate bachelor’s degrees: bioinformatics and molecular biology, biochemistry and biophysics, and computer science. I then went on to earn my PhD in computational neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego.
What drew you to your academic discipline?
I have loved programming and computer science since middle school. I loved making little—or sometimes big—programs to solve problems and learning the new methods required to do so. But I needed an application for those programs. I then learned about computational applications within biology, from protein folding to modeling neurons.
What are your research interests?
I am primarily interested in computer vision—teaching computers to “see” as we do. When humans look at a picture, they can usually immediately identify the various objects in the scene and their relationships. When a computer looks at a picture, it sees a bunch of tiny colored boxes. The goal of computer vision is to have the computer be able to see the objects and their relationships just as a human would, to be able to understand pictures instead of just store and display them. Computer vision plays an increasingly important role in our lives. We have seen applications like face detection and recognition being used more and more. But there are many other ways it is used, from being able to find anomalies in chest X-rays to locating unknown tombs in aerial photographs.
The speed of acquiring high-resolution images has grown exponentially in recent years and to be able to process all the data we acquire needs computers. In the lab I worked in as I was pursuing my PhD, we generated so many extremely high-resolution images of neurons every day that it would require the entire population of New York City working around the clock to identify all the important features and label them. I worked on speeding up this process using computers. Now I am working on applications to automatically detect errors in 3D prints and make biometric measurements for the creation of assistive devices such as prostheses.
You have worked on some pretty cool technology over the years. Would you share some of your accomplishments?
One summer during graduate school, I worked at Qualcomm (the company that makes most of the chips that go into cell phones) developing mobile apps for testing their new neural architecture chips. I also created software that I sold to several companies, medical firms primarily. If you have ever seen an ultrasound machine that’s a few years old, my software is probably running on it. Sadly, my software isn’t on the newest models. I also wrote software for the Boy Scouts of America to help run and manage their multi-million-dollar popcorn sales, and it was in use for over a decade before being retired.
What do you enjoy about being a faculty member at Moravian?
I love working with students—helping them understand course material, investigate new topics for their side projects, or diagnose the 3D printers. The students are so eager to work on new projects and discover new topics.
Are there any specific moments from your experience with students in class, lab, 3D printing club, or anything else that stand out in your mind as special?
At the beginning of the pandemic, several students ran the 3D printing equipment 24/7 to produce face shields and stethoscopes for hospitals and other medical groups. They took 6-hour shifts to keep everything running all hours of the day and night, repairing the machines when they would stop working. They also did all the post-processing work of sanding, assembling, sterilizing, and packaging the printed pieces before they could go out. I organized the students, but they are the ones who put a massive amount of work in while also attending their classes over Zoom. That effort will always stand out in my mind as a special experience.
Share something about yourself that people may not know.
This is hard since I share random facts about myself quite readily. In fact, the computer science students have a “lore book” of the random facts that I have divulged. Even then, I still do surprise them with new stories. One thing that comes to mind is that the robotic toolkit Roomba the students work on for various projects was used in my wedding to help my wife’s large teddy bear go down the aisle as the ring bearer.
What is your favorite spot on campus?
PPHAC 114—the computer science lab. While this space is primarily for students to hang out, I go down there to help them with homework problems, get past the bumps in their side projects, and give them new ideas of things to discover. It also gives me a chance to put off working on lecture material.
What is your favorite Moravian tradition?
I enjoy the lights in the windows during the winter because of the historical aspects, but the campus also looks very quaint and beautiful. I also enjoy Heritage Day, which is a fairly new tradition but still a great evolving tradition that benefits the students, the faculty, the staff, and the community.
What is your favorite thing to do when you have free time?
Geocaching because it gets me outdoors but also uses technology.
What book, film, song, or piece of art stands out as a favorite?
I love the TV show Futurama. It is sci-fi, but it also makes fun of sci-fi. It is filled with wry humor and is quite nerdy, incorporating advanced math, physics, or other science topics. There have even been academic papers written about the show, and in one case, the premise of an episode required the writers to create a new mathematical proof to work out logically. The proof was then published.
I can never resist a good ________.
Cookie or brownie, but I don’t accept bribes.
Name someone who inspires you and tell us why?
My father inspired me to get my PhD and to teach. He was ABD (all but dissertation) and eventually went on to teach chemistry at the high school level. He always wanted to hear about what I was learning in my courses, and he wanted to know all the details of my thesis project, even though it was far out of his area of expertise.