Catherine Qi Zhao Earns 2024 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Research

Department of Computer Science & Engineering’s (CS&E) Associate Professor Catherine Qi Zhao earned the 2024 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Research from the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering (CSE). Established in 1982, the Taylor Award for Distinguished Research recognizes younger faculty members who have shown outstanding ability in research. The award includes a $5,000 grant for professional development in teaching and research.

“This award is an incredible honor,” Zhao said. “I am deeply grateful for the continous support from the department and college at the University of Minnesota, without which our achievements would not have been possible. I also want to extend my sincere appreciation to all of the members of our lab, collaborators, and colleagues for their invaluable contributions. They are a huge player in this award.”

Zhao earned the award for her contributions to research in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, machine learning, and AI for humans. She started her journey in AI as a computer scientist developing intelligent visual systems at the University of California. During her time as a postdoctoral associate at the California Institute of Technology, she pioneered work on visual attention which culminated in a project named, “SALICON”. Their AI models were capable of understanding and predicting human attention. That breakthrough paved the way for a widespread adoption of the SALICON dataset and the application of their model across industry and academia.

Building upon that success, Zhao’s work shifted towards understanding atypical patterns in clinical populations, particularly in individuals with neurodevelopmental issues such as autism spectrum disorder. Her team created the first AI-based autism screening model, which garnered significant media attention. With the recent boom in AI technologies, Zhao’s work recently focused on trustworthy AI. This January, she was appointed a Dean’s Fellow in the College of Science and Engineering, focusing on exploring the ethical dimensions of AI and its role in university education and research.

“You can see the trajectory of my work moving towards AI for social good, especially today with the wide capabilities of AI,” Zhao said. “Looking ahead, I want to continue pushing the boundaries of AI research, exploring its applications and ensuring responsible deployment for the benefit of humanity. I am eager to collaborate with colleagues and partners at the University and community to maximize our social impact.”

Zhao is the fifth CS&E faculty member to receive the George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Research, joining Chad Myers, Arindam Banerjee, Tian He, and Zhi-Li Zhang. The complete list of previous winners can be found on the CSE website.