Ellen Hildreth

Professor Emerita of Computer Science

Research on human vision combining computer modeling and perceptual studies; interdisciplinary computer science education.

My research explores human vision through the creation of computational models of visual processing and observations from perceptual experiments. My work focuses on how we analyze the three-dimensional structure and movement of objects in the environment through the integration of cues such as image motion and stereo vision, and use this information for the visual guidance of tasks such as steering a vehicle and catching a ball. As we move through complex scenes of the sort that arise when we drive or play sports, we quickly perceive distinct objects that we can recognize, track, or interact with in some way. A critical step in this process is to locate object boundaries in the rapidly changing image that reaches the eye. In my current work, I am exploring a model for the detection of object boundaries in images of complex, dynamic scenes, and conducting perceptual experiments to study how stereo and motion cues are used by the human visual system to analyze object boundaries.

I teach an advanced course on vision that combines the study of state-of-the-art computer vision systems with observations from psychology and neuroscience about the visual processing strategies used in biological systems. This interdisciplinary thread also weaves through my teaching of our course on artificial intelligence, which explores the creation of computer systems that exhibit intelligent behavior such as reasoning, learning, natural language understanding, and problem solving with expert knowledge. At the introductory level, I teach the course Computation for the Sciences, in which students learn the MATLAB programming language and develop valuable computer skills for the support of scientific work. In all of my courses, students pursue individualized, extended projects on topics of personal interest. Many have created programs to support their research or provide educational tools on topics spanning a variety of scientific disciplines.

At Wellesley, I serve on the advisory committees for the Neuroscience program and the Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences program. Through these interdepartmental programs, students engage in a broad interdisciplinary study of the nervous system and the mind. They can pursue an area of concentration that includes coursework in computer science and research that incorporates the perspective of computational modeling. I advise students in both of these programs on curricular options and research projects. I also participate in the Wellesley Systems Club, a group of faculty and students in neuroscience, psychology, and computer science that meets regularly to share their research on sensory systems.

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  • B.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • M.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology