Pawan Sinha is a professor of vision and computational neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He received his undergraduate degree in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi and his Masters and doctoral degrees from the Department of Computer Science at MIT. He was at the University of California, Berkeley for the first year of his graduate studies.
Using a combination of experimental and computational modeling techniques, research in Pawan’s laboratory focuses on understanding how the human brain learns to recognize objects through visual experience and how objects are encoded in memory. The lab's experimental work on these issues involves studying healthy individuals and also those with neurological disorders such as autism. A key initiative of the lab is Project Prakash; this effort seeks to accomplish the twin goals of providing treatment to children with disabilities and also understanding mechanisms of learning and plasticity in the brain.
Pawan has served on the program committees for prominent scientific conferences on object and face recognition and is currently a member of the editorial board of ACM's Journal of Applied Perception. He is a recipient of the Pisart Vision Award from the Lighthouse Guild International, the PECASE – the highest US Government award for young scientists, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in Neuroscience, the John Merck Scholars Award for research on developmental disorders, the Jeptha and Emily Wade Award for creative research, the James McDonnell Scholar Award, the Troland Award from the National Academies, the Global Indus Technovator Award and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from IIT Delhi. Pawan's teaching has been recognized by Departmental honors and the Dean’s Award for Advising and Teaching at MIT.
Pawan's roster of inabilities is fairly substantial. He does not know how to drive, swim or play a musical instrument. He is also quite poor at accounts and keeping things organized. However, he does manage, occasionally, to engage in adventure sports, art and whimsical projects. He has trekked to the base of Mt. Everest, jumped out of a plane at 15,000 feet, contributed a regular comic strip to the MIT campus newspaper and been inducted into the Guinness Book of Records for creating the world’s smallest reproduction of a printed book. His first journey to the United States involved a plane crash (click here for some press clippings) and a ride aboard the Concorde.
One of the grand challenges of neuroscience lies in understanding how the brain recognizes objects in the visual world. Tremendous progress has been made in determining the sites in the brain that may be involved in recognition. However, not much is known about how recognition proceeds. What are the computational principles that underlie our impressive recognition abilities? Research in the Sinha laboratory focuses on this issue using a combination of experimental and computational modeling techniques.
The two specific questions that the lab is currently exploring are:
- What is the nature of the object representations in the brain?
- How can object representations be learned from visual experience?
The Sinha lab is addressing the first question by examining the nature of information that the brain uses for recognizing important classes of objects such as faces. Especially interesting in this regard are impoverished images such as highly blurred photographs and minimalistic caricatures. Analyzing such stimuli promises to provide insights about what aspects of image information may be critical and/or sufficient for recognition. The lab's research on object learning involves work with a unique population of children in India who have gained sight after several years of congenital blindness. Studies of the time-course of visual skill development in these children provide valuable clues for the lab's ongoing efforts to computationally model the acquisition of object concepts by the human brain.
9.63 Laboratory in visual cognition
9.012 Cognitive science
9.48J Philosophical Issues in Brain Science
9.675 The Development of Object and Face Recognition
Sinha, P., Kjelgaard, M. M., Gandhi, T., Tsourides, K., Cardinaux, A., Pantazis, D., Diamond, S. P., Held, R. (2014). Autism as a disorder of prediction. Procs. of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(42), 15220-15225.
Sinha, P., Wulff, J., Held, R. (2014). Establishing cross-modal mappings: Empirical and computational investigations. Sensory Integration and the Unity of Consciousness edited by David Bennett, Christopher Hill, MIT Press: Cambridge.
Ganesh, S., Arora, P., Sethi, S., Gandhi, T. K., Kalia, A. A., Chatterjee, G., Sinha, P. (2014). Results of late surgical intervention in children with early-onset bilateral cataracts. British Journal of Ophthalmology, doi:10.1136/bjophthalmol-2013-304475.
Kalia, A., Lesmes, L. A., Dorr, M., Gandhi, T., Chatterjee, G., Ganesh, S., Bex, P. and Sinha, P. (2014). Development of pattern vision following early and extended blindness. Procs. of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(5), 2035-2039.