New York University's Todd Gureckis, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, has been awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The awards, announced by the White House, are the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
"These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness," President Barack Obama said. "We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people."
This year's recipients are employed or funded by several federal departments and agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is supporting Gureckis' work.
The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. They are conferred annually at the White House following recommendations from participating federal agencies. The winners will receive their awards at a Washington, DC ceremony this spring.
Gureckis' lab, with the support of a five-year NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award received in 2013, pioneers the relations between research in human cognition, learning science, and machine learning. NSF CAREER awards are the most prestigious competitive NSF awards for junior faculty and are designed to support the integration of research and teaching activities.
Gureckis' ongoing studies compare the behavior of humans to intelligent machine learning algorithms that can reason about the world and ask questions in order to learn. The goal of this human-machine comparison is to discover the core building blocks of human cognition that make us such uniquely smart and adaptable learners.
Ongoing applications of Gureckis' research range from the construction of novel algorithms for machine learning inspired by human cognition to the design of interactive museum displays to better engage young children in scientific reasoning.
In addition to his research program, Gureckis has developed innovative new undergraduate courses at NYU that integrate computer programming, open-source robotics, cognitive science, and philosophy. The aim of these courses is to introduce students to computational theories of human intelligence and to inspire playful discovery within the natural sciences.