2024 O’Donnell Award in Engineering: Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D.

Rice University Engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., Recognized for Revolutionary Imaging Technology That Seeks to Make the Invisible Visible

Trailblazing engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Engineering from TAMEST. He was chosen for his revolutionary imaging technology that seeks to make the invisible visible.

Imagine taking a pristine picture through fog, smoke and rain. Imagine taking interior images of the human body through skin, bone and other tissue that scatter light and limit human vision. Dr. Veeraraghavan and his team at Rice work on creating imaging systems that use novel multi-dimensional image sensors along with machine learning algorithms to undo the effects of light-scattering and see-through scattering media such as fog, smoke, rain and human tissue.

Recently, with support from researchers at the University of Maryland, his team has developed a new technology dubbed NeuWS, an acronym for “neural wavefront shaping.” At its core, NeuWS is about undoing the effects of light scattering by using wavefront shaping and a novel machine-learning algorithm. Scattering is what makes light, which has a lower wavelength unusable in many scenarios. If you can undo the effects of scattering, imaging can go much further.

Capturing images through rain and fog is certainly interesting, but this technology could have lifesaving applications. Through NeuWS-like technologies, there could be a time in the future where a firefighter entering into a room filled with smoke could be equipped with goggles that allow them to have clear visibility. Automakers could be able to install car headlights that can see through a host of dangerous weather conditions. Surgeons could be able to see blood vessels through the skin tissue without making a single cut. While several further advances are needed to make any of these scenarios possible, their work has made significant progress and make all of this potentially feasible.

“Dr. Veeraraghavan is tackling one of the hardest problems in imaging, what many consider to be a ‘holy grail problem’ of optical engineering,” said nominator Alan Bovik, Ph.D. (NAE), Professor, Cockrell Family Regents Endowed Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. “Every time we improve our ability to see what is unseen, the number of things we can do increases. The NeuWS technology is going to allow us to see things we cannot even imagine today.”

Dr. Veeraraghavan is one of five Texas-based researchers receiving the TAMEST 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards. Each are chosen for their individual contributions addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.

Dr. Veeraraghavan was recognized at the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, and gave a presentation on his research preceding the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Austin, Texas, at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center.

About the O’Donnell Awards:

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards annually recognize rising star Texas researchers who are addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.

Thanks to a $1.15 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation in 2022, the O’Donnell Awards have expanded to include an additional science award. The awards now recognize recipients in the categories of Medicine, Engineering, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences and Technology Innovation. (Previously, the TAMEST O’Donnell Awards rotated its science award between physical and biological sciences every year.)

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards are made possible by the O’Donnell Awards Endowment Fund, established in 2005 through the generous support of several individuals and organizations. View a full list of supporters here.


TAMEST was co-founded in 2004 by the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison and Nobel Laureates Michael S. Brown, M.D., and Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D. With more than 335 members and 22 member institutions, TAMEST is composed of the Texas-based members of the three National Academies (National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences), the Royal Society and the state’s eight Nobel Laureates. We bring together the state’s brightest minds in medicine, engineering, science and technology to foster collaboration, and to advance research, innovation and business in Texas.

TAMEST’s unique interdisciplinary model has become an effective recruitment tool for top research and development centers across Texas. Since our founding, more than 275 TAMEST members have been inducted into the National Academies or relocated to Texas.

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