WRITTEN BY: Matt Busekroos | PRODUCED BY: Nate Caldwell

Prior to CSAIL, Yang Liu’s academic journey started in Beijing where he received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree within the Department of Automation at Tsinghua University. Liu originally grew up in a small village in the southern part of China and is currently developing his passion and pace in research and education. Liu worked on computational imaging and microscopy during his final year of school before CSAIL. He said he was fascinated about how we can acquire visual information towards (e.g. 3D) and beyond (e.g. spectral, transient, non-line-of-sight) human eyes by joint design optics and computation. Liu was drawn to CSAIL through the motion magnification work out of both Professor Fredo Durand and Professor Bill Freeman’s groups.

Throughout his PhD studies, Liu said it is important to him to work on something that would either meet a social demand or accelerate scientific discovery. “For meeting social demand, I proposed to explore whether our daily screen can reveal an image of the scene in front of it without using any cameras, which I called casually as ScreenCam,” Liu said. “The primary goal of this work is to raise the awareness of imaging privacy threats brought by the combined access to the screen and its embedded ambient light sensor, and promote the development of ways to mitigate them. The privacy aspect is where we meet social demand.” Liu said this project would help the public become aware of the potential privacy and security risks due to the combination of active (e.g. the screens) and passive (e.g. the ambient light sensors) components in ubiquitous smart devices. He added that the industry should take measures to avoid such risks as soon as possible.

For accelerating scientific discovery, Liu said he is in the early stage of tackling the sacrificed motion information of observing the micro world in high-dimensions. “Our sensors are typically 2D, in order to acquire multi-dimensional visual information (e.g. 3D volumetric, angular, and optical super-resolution), temporal resolution or sample motion is usually compromised since multiple frames are required to get a single multi-dimensional reconstruction,” he said. “This common headache hinders multi-dimensional microscopes from observing living samples at high speed” Liu said this precludes important scientific discoveries, such as studying dynamics of how the coronavirus or a tumor cell invades healthy cells and spreads.  

According to Liu, his self-motivation comes from both impactful social demand and scientific discovery.  My passion comes from the difference that I want to make both spatially and temporally,” he said. “Spatially, I would like to investigate some topics that others might not think of and actually bring important insight to the research community or even the whole society. Temporally, I would want my research and future students that I work with to have long-term impact.” Working with Durand and his group has been a positive experience for Liu. “Fredo is always insightful and supportive,” Liu said. “He gives me plenty of freedom to explore the type of research that I really appreciate and is always there providing high-level (e.g. how to tell the story and its positive/negative social impact) to low-level (e.g. how to build up a toy set-up and validate an initial idea) advice. I knew Fredo from his webpage, where he has a ton of interesting and fun photos that appear randomly each time you refresh it. From there, I learned that Fredo has great passion in research, teaching, photography, and life in general. That’s the kind of person I would like to work with and learn from.”

Following the completion of his PhD Liu said he would like to pursue academia. He said he loves the freedom to explore research and teaching.