Alec Jacobson

Computer scientist advances applications of geomtry processing

In recognition of his contributions in geometry processing, University of Toronto computer scientist Alec Jacobson is a 2022 winner of the Sloan Fellowship. Geometry processing is a field with applications ranging from climate simulation and biomedicine to robotics and architecture.

“It’s all about how to represent two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes on the computer and manipulate those shapes, analyze those shapes and put them, hopefully, to some human use,” he explains.

“Geometry processing has its roots in computer graphics, where those shapes might be characters or scenery and visual effects or computer games. But we also find applications in computational fabrication or the design of physical things around us – including in health care and medical sciences, when we represent the anatomies of people’s bodies or body parts.

“The idea is to make sure that the algorithms that we create work on messy data that we collect in the wild, and we have great ways of collecting 3D geometry. Now, even just with our cell phones, we can collect 3D data. But unfortunately, that’s very noisy, and it can lead to problems with existing algorithms. So a lot of our work is in making sure that those work correctly even if the data is messy.”

On winning the Sloan Fellowship, Dr. Jacobson said it was a big surprise, because he had applied a few times in the past and didn’t win.

“It’s always a bummer to get rejected,” he says. “They had changed the rules with regards to how many years out from your PhD you could be, and I was able to apply again. So it was really fantastic to be able to win and kind of a head-spinning experience to look at the previous winners and see sort of what I need to live up to.”

He plans to use funds from the fellowship “to pay PhD students and to pay them competitively.” The financial support will also be helpful, he says, in allowing him and other members of his research team to attend conferences to disseminate their research.

Learn more about the Sloan Research Fellowship

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