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Computer Scientist Elected Fellow of National Academy of Inventors

Ming Lin, Innovator in Virtual Reality, Computer Graphics and Robotics, Becomes 10th UMD Faculty Member Honored

By Abby Robinson

Students walk on McKeldin Mall

UMD's Ming Lin joins a 2021 National Academy of Inventors class of fellows that hails from 116 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes worldwide.

Photos by John T. Consoli

A University of Maryland computer scientist has been elected fellow by the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), joining the ranks of some of the nation’s most prestigious and creative academic inventors.

Ming Lin, a Distinguished University Professor of computer science with joint appointments in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was recognized for her contributions in virtual reality, computer graphics and robotics.

The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development and welfare of society.

Ming Lin portrait

“I am very honored to be elected as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors this year. We’ve constantly been working on scientific problems where the solutions will have considerable social impact,” Lin said. “That’s important for me—I am hoping through research, teaching and advising that I can make some difference.”

Her research focuses on multimodal interaction, physically based animations and simulations, and algorithmic robotics and their use in physical and virtual environments. Her work has extensive applications in medical simulations, cancer screening and urban computing, as well as supporting city-scale planning, human-centric computing, intelligent transportation and traffic management.

“Given Ming Lin’s impressive impact on the fields of computer graphics, computer animation, extended reality and robotics, being elected NAI fellow is a much-deserved recognition of her phenomenal work,” said Matthias Zwicker, chair of UMD’s Department of Computer Science.

Lin holds five patents in physics-based sound synthesis and propagation, reconstruction of garments directly from photographs, and estimation of tissues’ properties using images for cancer detection and diagnosis, with her students and collaborators at the University of North Carolina and Microsoft.

Under her leadership, Lin’s research group released more than 15 copyrighted software systems that have been downloaded over 2 million times freely for research and education. They have been licensed to more than 60 companies and integrated with popular robotics middleware suites.

She also co-founded the 3D audio startup Impulsonic, which was acquired by Valve Software. The startup’s Phonon sound-rendering library is available as Valve’s open-source Steam Audio and has been adopted in virtual reality applications and multiple game engines. Other companies have also licensed and integrated Lin’s research into games (e.g., Crackdown 2) and virtual reality engines as part of Project Triton.

In her research, Lin has used virtual and augmented reality to better predict vehicle collisions and improve traffic control, an issue that promises new challenges as more autonomous vehicles take to the road. One of her projects, the Road Network, is a library of methods for creating a 3D model of a large-scale road network that can be used for real-time traffic simulation, interactive visualization of a virtual world and autonomous vehicle navigation.

Lin also uses virtual and augmented reality to improve health care. In 2016, one of her research teams showed how using medical images could help to more accurately diagnose and treat prostate cancer in individual patients. By reconstructing 3D geometry from sets of multiple-view images and combining the findings with patient data, such as age and family history, the team determined a likely prognosis and a more timely diagnosis and treatment for cancer. The virtual reality images can also be used for virtual surgery, which lets surgeons practice and experiment on 3D augmented reality objects without risk to a patient.

Lin has authored or co-authored more than 300 refereed publications, five books and 18 book chapters. She is among the top 20 most-cited women in computer science and electronics in the world, according to Guide2Research.

She received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award in 1995, the IEEE Visualization and Graphics Technical Community Virtual Reality Technical Achievement Award in 2010, the Washington Academy of Sciences’ Distinguished Career Award in 2020, several industry faculty awards and 13 best paper awards.

She is a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, IEEE and the Eurographics Association. In 2020, she was elected to the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques Academy. She also serves on the board of directors of the Computing Research Association’s Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research.

Lin joined UMD in 2018 following a 20-year career at the University of North Carolina. She was the Elizabeth Iribe Chair of Computer Science at UMD from 2018 to 2020 and now holds the Dr. Barry L. Mersky and Capital One Professorships in the Department of Computer Science.

She joins a 2021 fellow class that hails from 116 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes worldwide. Among the new fellows are 33 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and three Nobel laureates.

Lin joins nine UMD faculty members who are NAI fellows: John Baras (2015), Robert Fischell (2015), Ben Shneiderman (2015), Rita Colwell (2016), C. D. Mote, Jr. (2017), Ray Liu (2019), Min Wu (2019), Rama Chellappa (2020) and Laurie Locascio (2020).

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