Indian-American, Shree Nayar of Columbia received the Okawa Prize for his work in digital photography.

Shree K. Nayar, T. C. Chang Professor of Computer Science at Columbia Engineering, won the Okawa Prize from the Okawa Foundation of Japan for his work in computer vision and computational imaging. Nayar is being honored for “developing breakthrough imaging techniques” In March 2023, he’ll accept the honor in Tokyo. Nayar runs Columbia’s Computational Imaging and Vision Laboratory. “Over the previous three decades, I’ve worked closely with Japanese researchers and companies. My lab has used this to develop image technologies for consumer products and factory automation systems. These collaborations lead to personal and professional relationships with brilliant Japanese researchers.

The Okawa Prize is endowed by the Okawa Foundation to “honor and recognize internationally outstanding contributions to research, technological advancement, and business in information and telecommunications.” Since 1996, one Japanese and one international researcher have won. Dr. Chieko Asakawa, an IBM Fellow, is the 2022 prizewinner from Japan. Nayar’s work revolutionized how machines and people capture visual information. In the mid-1990s, he pioneered computational imaging, which combines novel optics with modern image processing techniques. Nayar and his colleagues used this paradigm to construct omnidirectional, depth, gigapixel, and high-dynamic-range cameras.

Nayar’s idea of using various pixels for HDR imaging has improved the quality of smartphone images. Over 1 billion smartphone users utilize his technologies daily. Popular Photography magazine recognized Nayar with “transforming the pocket camera”. Nayar’s work also focuses on light’s physical interactions. Researchers and practitioners use his models for surface reflection, interreflection, texturing, and atmospheric scattering. Nayar’s ideas for measuring 3D shapes with active illumination are employed in visual inspection and factory automation.

Nayar is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Inventors, and the Indian National Academy of Engineering. In 1994, he earned the NTT Distinguished Scientific Award, in 2014, the Sony Appreciation Honor, in 2019 the IEEE PAMI Distinguished Researcher Award, and in 2021 the Funai Achievement Award. Nayar earned the Great Teacher Award from Columbia University in 2006 and the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award from the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association in 2015. In 2021, he posted his lecture series “First Principles of Computer Vision” on YouTube, where it has gained millions of views.

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