Indian American Shree K Nayar wins Okawa Prize


Shree K Nayar, an Indian American professor at Columbia Engineering, has been awarded the prestigious Okawa Prize from the Okawa Foundation of Japan for his seminal work on computer vision and computational imaging.

Nayar, the T C Chang Professor of Computer Science, is being recognized for “the invention of innovative imaging techniques and their widespread use in digital photography and computer vision.”

He will receive the prize at a ceremony to be held in Tokyo, Japan, in March 2023, according to a Columbia Engineering press release.

Nayar’s work has changed the way visual information is captured and used by both machines and humans, the release said.

In the mid-1990s, he pioneered the field of computational imaging, which combines unconventional optics with advanced image processing algorithms to produce immersive and interactive visual information.

Based on this paradigm, Nayar and his collaborators developed novel cameras for omnidirectional imaging, depth imaging, giga-pixel imaging, and high-dynamic-range imaging.

Nayar’s idea of creating assorted pixels for high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging has enabled smartphone cameras to leapfrog in terms of the quality of the photos they capture.

It is estimated that more than one billion smartphone users worldwide are using his technology on a daily basis. In 2017, Popular Photography magazine published a profile of Nayar in which he was credited for “transforming the camera in your pocket.”

A second major focus of Nayar’s work is to understand how light interacts with the physical world. His models for surface reflection, interreflection, texture, and atmospheric scattering are used by both researchers and practitioners in computer vision, graphics, and other fields.

Nayar’s inventions related to active illumination methods for measuring 3D shapes of objects are widely used for visual inspection and factory automation.

In recognition of his pioneering work on imaging and vision, Nayar was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2008, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011, the National Academy of Inventors in 2015, and the Indian National Academy of Engineering in 2022.