Carnegie Mellon Professor Named One of Popular Science Magazine's Brilliant 10

Byron SpiceWednesday, September 14, 2005

PITTSBURGH-Doug James, assistant professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, is featured in the October issue of Popular Science magazine as one of this year's "Brilliant 10," an annual showcase of 10 of the brightest, most innovative young scientists in the country who are gaining recognition in their fields, but are not yet well known to the general public.

James, 33, is being recognized for combining his expertise in mathematics and computer graphics to develop algorithms that reduce the number of coordinates needed to describe complex deformation phenomena like trees blowing in the wind, a face breaking into a smile or objects falling to the ground.

Recently he showed that these reduced coordinates could be used to efficiently bound the extent of deforming objects using what he calls "Bounded Deformation Trees." Among other things, they can be used to detect collisions between flexible objects at costs comparable to collision detection between rigid objects, which usually happens very quickly.

Bounded Deformation Trees also have potential uses in interactive computer graphics, computer animation, video games, virtual prototyping and assembly planning, surgical simulation, drug design, telerobotics and robotic manipulation.

Experts say James' technique saves hours of computation time, providing speed-ups of a hundred fold or more that will make haptic force-feedback rendering and other applications feasible that otherwise wouldn't be for years.

"Despite great advances in computing power, our everyday world remains filled with phenomena that are many orders of magnitude too complex to simulate interactively with standard 'fast numerical methods,'" James said. "We are therefore researching radically different simulation approaches. One theme is to use preprocessing to construct efficient data-driven simulation models that allow low-cost interactive simulation of particular systems under particular conditions."

"Doug is a brilliant, young scientist who tackles problems with an unusual blend of imagination, modesty and fearlessness," said Jeannette Wing, head of the Computer Science Department in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. "His computer simulations of falling chairs, swaying towers and bridges, and running herds of elephants, camels and horses are mesmerizing works of art. One can easily forget the hard science and engineering that went into creating them."

"Doug James has a mind-bending vision of where real-time computer graphics can go and the talent to make it happen," added Matt Mason, director of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.

James has been a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon since 2002. He holds a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from the University of Western Ontario, located in his hometown of London, Ontario, Canada. He earned his master's and doctor's degrees in mathematics from the Institute of Applied Mathematics at the Universiy of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

He received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development Award in 2004 and has presented several papers at SIGGRAPH, a special interest group within the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) that focuses on graphics.

James lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Karen, and their son, Ethan. For more on James' work, see:

Popular Science, founded in 1872, is described as the world's largest science and technology magazine, with a circulation of 1.45 million subscribers and a readership of more than seven million people. Popular Science® is published by Time4 Media®, a subsidiary of Time Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.

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