Michael J. Tarr named 2017 AAAS fellow

Head of Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Psychology, Michael J. Tarr, has been selected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Tarr, also a member of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), is being recognized for his research on the perception of faces, objects and scenes, computational and artificial vision systems, and perceptual expertise. His work has been centered on how the brain turns the 2D images that it sees into the perception of objects and scenes. Tarr’s other research includes visual categorization and semantics, and new imaging methods.

The AAAS is the publisher of Science and the world’s largest general scientific society that seeks to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” Of the AAAS fellows from Carnegie Mellon, Tarr is the 23rd and the seventh from the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. AAAS fellows are elected by peers to honor their scientific advancements.

Tarr first joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty in 2009 following previous careers at Brown and Yale. His efforts in the various mechanisms surrounding perception and cognition are a result of his interests in how humans perceive their surroundings as they learn faces, scenes, and objects and the interaction of how our visual senses interact with our other senses, thoughts, and emotions.

In addition to being named AAAS fellow, Tarr has also been named the Trustee Professor of Vision Science by Carnegie Mellon. Richard Scheines, dean of Dietrich College, has recognized Tarr as “a great scientist, propelling us toward a much deeper understanding of how the brain accomplishes the miracle of vision.” Scheines also commented on Tarr’s leadership qualities as the head of the Department of Psychology. Tarr’s research has been “absolutely critical in the rise of the college and the institution at large,” says Scheines in a university press release. “I am delighted that AAAS has elected him as a fellow and very pleased that we can honor him with the Trustee Professorship of Vision Science.”

Tarr previously served as the co-director of the CNBC, a joint program between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that supports cross-university neuroscience research. He has led the Department of Psychology since 2017 and was a founding member of BrainHub, Carnegie Mellon’s approach to answering brain science questions through the intersection of engineering, statistics, computer science, psychology, biology, and neuroscience departments.

“Carnegie Mellon and the entire Pittsburgh academic community is a special place for studying the nature of human intelligence, behavior and the brain.” Tarr said in a university press release. He credits the intersection between computer science, engineering, psychology, and neuroscience as unique and “the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration that will lead to a deeper understanding of the amazing complexity of the human brain.”

Looking ahead, Tarr is interested in connections between biology and artificial intelligence focusing on using computational vision systems to better understand the neural basis of human behavior. These biological vision models can also help to improve artificial vision systems.

“As a representative of this larger community, it is an honor to be recognized both by AAAS and CMU.”

Tarr will be inducted as AAAS fellow on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 during the AAAS annual meeting in Austin, TX. Carnegie Mellon will honor Tarr as the Trustee Professor of Vision Science in Fall 2018.