Carnegie Mellon University Assistant Professor of Computer Science Luis von Ahn is one of five recipients this year of Microsoft Research's New Faculty Fellowship, an award that seeks to identify young professors who are likely to become leaders in the field of computer science.
Luis von Ahn"The caliber of the Microsoft Research New Faculty Fellows is simply stunning," said Sailesh Chutani, director of External Research & Programs at Microsoft Research. "They have already obtained significant results. The clarity of their vision and the scope of their research demonstrates their potential for future leadership in their chosen fields."
Von Ahn, who earned his doctorate in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in 2005 and joined the faculty of the School of Computer Science last year, will receive a cash gift of $200,000 and other resources over a two-year period that will help him launch his academic career. He'll use the resources to develop new software, attend academic and professional conferences, and engage in opportunities with employees of Microsoft Research.
"This is extremely exciting," von Ahn said. "This fellowship will allow me to jump-start my research program as a junior faculty member."
Von Ahn's research focuses on what he calls "human computation" — combining human abilities with those of computers to solve problems that would be impossible for humans or computers to solve by themselves. For instance, he has developed a series of online, multiplayer games that harness human brainpower. One such game, The ESP Game, requires players to independently generate words to describe an image with the hope of matching each other. In the process, they develop keywords for the images that can be used to improve Web image searches. He has also helped develop CAPTCHAs, the distorted-letter tests used as a security device on many Web sites.
"Luis continues to impress us all with his creative approaches to solving real-world problems," said Randal E. Bryant, dean of the School of Computer Science. "I am confident that both Luis and Microsoft will gain from the connections they make via this fellowship."
Last year, von Ahn was named a recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," and was one of Popular Science magazine's "Brilliant 10" young scientists. A native of Guatemala, he earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics at Duke University in 2000. After earning his computer science doctorate at Carnegie Mellon, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Algorithm Adaptation Dissemination and Integration (ALADDIN) in the Computer Science Department.
This is the third year of the New Faculty Fellowship program. Other recipients this year include Magdalena Balazinska of the University of Washington, Josh Bongard of the University of Vermont, Yixin Chen of Washington University in St. Louis, and Adam Siepel of Cornell University.
"As I read through the nomination materials and witnessed their drive and energy during an intensely rigorous review process, I could not help but be impressed with the New Faculty Fellows," Chutani said. "We look forward to seeing breakthrough ideas and great results from them."