Varshney Reappointed as Director of UMIACS

Tue Apr 14, 2015

A noted expert in computer visualization has been reappointed as director of a unique multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Maryland.

Amitabh Varshney, professor of computer science, will begin a second five-year term as director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), effective July 1, 2015.

“Amitabh has provided strong leadership during his first term and has been committed to science and scholarship that have a positive impact on our lives and on society,” says Jayanth Banavar, dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS).

Launched in 1985, UMIACS was established to conduct research on “grand challenge” questions that can only be solved using multidisciplinary approaches based in computer science. Much of the institute’s early work—still robust today—involved computer vision, high-performance computing and natural language processing experts working on federally funded topics of national interest.

When Varshney became UMIACS director in July 2010, he sought more scientific talent, realizing that rapid advances in computational power would bring new opportunities for research and innovation in areas like personalized medicine, cybersecurity, computer visualization, and data science.

“I knew we had to grow to meet the changing scientific landscape,” Varshney says. “All of the pieces were there—our unique location near government agencies and federal research labs, our expanding partnerships with medical experts in Baltimore, and a commitment from the campus to advance technology-driven innovation and entrepreneurship—we just needed more great faculty.”

Under Varshney’s direction, UMIACS grew from 62 to 72 full-time faculty members and eight research scientists working in its 16 centers and labs. Their academic backgrounds span nine different departments across six colleges on the College Park campus.

Along with new talent came new research priorities. Varshney began to push for new programs in bioinformatics, autonomous robotics, quantum information science, and virtual and augmented reality. Several initiatives in UMIACS that either launched or have grown significantly under Varshney’s tenure include the:

Maryland Cybersecurity Center, which is jointly supported by CMNS and the A. James Clark School of Engineering. The center was recently named a federally funded Science of Security “lablet,” tasked with developing new scientific methodologies and tools related to cybersecurity needs and challenges.

Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, a partnership between the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with the support and participation of the Research Directorate of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service. The center is focused on advancing research and education in quantum computer science and quantum information theory.

Center for Health-related Informatics and Bioimaging (CHIB), which joins computer scientists, life scientists, engineers, physicists, biostatisticians and others at the University of Maryland, College Park with imaging specialists, physicians, clinicians and other health care professionals at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

CHIB is part of a broader-based effort known as MPowering the State, which supports collaboration between faculty, students, clinicians and staff from the state’s top public research institutions in research, education and outreach involving public health, technology transfer, agriculture and more.

Varshney has been one of the more active participants in the MPower initiative, regularly traveling to Baltimore—or bringing medical experts to College Park—to explore new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to serious conditions like traumatic brain injury, autism and Parkinson’s disease. Some of this work will take place in the recently launched Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory, known as the UMIACS Augmentarium.

He has also committed UMIACS funding to the Maryland Center for Women in Computing, which supports, educates and mentors female students at the university who are interested in pursuing a degree in computer science, and creates programs for female K–12 students to interest them in computing careers.

Varshney has implemented several new strategic outreach initiatives for UMIACS, significantly increasing the institute’s communications efforts and, with the Department of Computer Science, launched a Corporate Partners in Computing Program to generate new research and education opportunities involving the private sector.

“I am deeply honored and grateful to have the opportunity to lead our talented faculty, research scientists and staff as we continue to grow in size and stature,” Varshney says. “The work we collectively do can really make a difference. I’m excited for the future of UMIACS.”

Varshney joined the University of Maryland as an associate professor of computer science in 2000, having spent six prior years as an assistant professor of computer science at SUNY Stony Brook.

He received a B. Tech. in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 1989 and an M.S. (1991) and doctorate (1994) in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Varshney was elected IEEE Fellow in 2010. He is the director of the NVIDIA/CUDA Center of Excellence at UMD as well as the IEEE Visualization and Graphics Technical Committee.