Two Yale professors win Young Investigator Research Program award
Yale professors Ilker Yildirim and Peijun Guo have received research prizes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars which they will use to study reverse-engineering representations and high-level attention computational architecture and the process of light emission, respectively.
Reese Koppel & Alessia Degraeve
Journalist and editor
Courtesy of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Two Yale professors have each received nearly half a million dollars in research grants for their work in the area of human perception and the process of light emitting.
Assistant professor of psychology Ilker Yildirim received the funds through the Young Investigator Research Program Award, or YIP, of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The award was given for his work on “High Level Attention Computing Architecture”. Yildirim joins a group of 36 scientists and engineers – chosen from over 175 nominations – selected to receive an award this year. Her winning research proposal is titled “High-Level Attention Computing Architecture: Reverse Engineering Representations and Goals that Boost Vision in Complex and Dynamic Environments”.
Totaling $ 450,000 in grants over three years, Yildirim will use the monetary reward to fund further research efforts on the interpretation of raw sensory inputs and how they interact with the retina and brain to shape the human experience of objects and events around the world. Yildirim explained that the funds will allow him to move forward in finding an integrated explanation for human perception that transcends cognitive and neural lenses.
“Specifically, we will discuss the high-level attention computational architecture, to understand the true depth and richness of perceptual representations and how they are deployed given the immediate goals of an observer in complex and dynamic environments. ” said Yildirim.
Yildirim’s research at Yale’s Cognitive and Neural Computing Lab centers on the goal of explaining the biological calculations that underlie the way people see, reason, and interact with the world. A unique feature of Yildirim’s research lab is that it is primarily a computer modeling lab.
He said most psychologists see cognitive modeling work as geared towards engineering, but he ignores the failures of the human mind, a concept Yildirim actively pursues in his research.
“It’s as if the engineering challenges are basically a compromise against understanding the computational basis of vision and thought,” Yildirim said. “In our work, to our surprise, we find that the closer we approach models to explain the sight experience, the more promising they become as engineering tools, for example, to build AI systems. more secure and flexible. ”
Researchers graduated from Yildirim’s lab are working with him to research the efficient inverse graph hypothesis, or EIG. This hypothesis is an attempt to understand how visual processing in the brain interprets the world, according to Aalap Shah GRD ’27, a doctoral student in the psychology department working under Yildirim.
Shah explained that the hypothesis attempts to prove that the brain translates 2D images of the world into 3D images. Because the brain receives relatively small-scale information from the eyes, he said, research is trying to find out what mechanism should allow people to see the world as they do.
“I think the work we are doing in the lab is stimulating, state of the art, extremely compelling and I guarantee that even someone new to the field would do ‘WOW! “” Shah wrote in an email to News. “We are trying to understand the algorithm that operates in the brain that allows us to see, think and act as we do. To this end, we provide behavioral, computational and neural evidence for theories that are either new or abandoned by the community at large because they seemed too difficult / implausible to realize.
Yildirim’s role as Director of the Cognitive and Neural Computing Laboratory at Yale has shaped his research process, as he engages with many graduate researchers to further his study of the field.
He said he can usually be found right next to his students – or sometimes, in virtual environments, in a little box on Zoom – confusing about code, data and analysis. He also helps his students write their own research papers.
“Professor Yildirim was… the most ideal lead investigator I thought I could ever have,” Shah wrote to the News. “He is kind, patient, caring, extremely helpful and at the same time ambitious, very motivated and undeniably enjoys his job.”
Yildirim was not the only Yalie to receive the prestigious award. Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering Peijun Guo was also honored for his proposal titled “Understanding White Light Emitting Semiconductors for Inconsistent and Coherent Light Sources”.
Guo detailed his plans to allocate his new funds to the News.
“The award will be used to fund research into light-emitting semiconductors, which operate in a very different way from traditional semiconductors widely used in light-emitting diodes,” Guo said. “Our research will examine the fundamental photophysical processes of white light emission, as well as the fabrication of efficient light sources using these materials.”
Besides his enthusiasm for new research opportunities, Guo expressed his pride and enthusiasm for achieving this rare level of professional recognition – he obtained his doctorate just five years ago.
“This prestigious award is a true recognition of my past accomplishments and provides me with the essential support to launch my early career at Yale, especially in the context of the various challenges caused by COVID-19,” Guo said.
With the YIP 2021 scholarship program, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research has awarded approximately $ 16.2 million in grants to scientists and engineers at more than 30 different research institutes.