Nanyang Technological University

Pioneer of virtual humanity:
Professor Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann


Prof Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann, the Director of NTU's Institute for Media Innovation, lives in a virtual world but has produced solid, real results.

A pioneer in the area of interactive digital media research known as virtual humanity, she received the highest honour, the 2010 Distinguished Career Award, from the European Association for Computer Graphics (Eurographics) for her contributions towards advancing computer graphics research in Europe.

In 2012, she also received the Career Achievement Award from the Canadian Human Computer Communications Society and the prestigious Humboldt Research Award in Germany.

She has authored dozens of books, published more than 600 papers on virtual humans and virtual worlds (many jointly with her PhD students), organised numerous conferences, and delivered keynote addresses at global events such as the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Many of her former PhD students are now professors in renowned institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology, the University of Utrecht and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

"Producing multi-talented, creative people has to be one of the goals of an interdisciplinary research laboratory," she says.

Prof Magnenat-Thalmann joined NTU in August 2009 as the Director of the interdisciplinary Institute for Media Innovation. The institute builds on NTU's strengths in engineering, science, business, the arts and education, providing a common platform for interdisciplinary research groups to come together and make new discoveries. It also serves as a conduit for the world to access the university's range of interactive digital media offerings, a growth sector of Singapore's economy.

On one of the attractions of NTU, Prof Magnenat-Thalmann says: "I liked that I could meet people who are working in artificial intelligence, robotics, vision, art and so on. This is a very dynamic place with a lot of collaboration opportunities!"

Prof Magnenat-Thalmann has spent the last 30 years working at the interfaces of disciplines to bring virtual humans to life.

Her achievements include revolutionising interdisciplinary research in computer graphics, computer animation and virtual worlds and producing impactful work that synergises art, fashion and computer graphics.

Her accomplishments in virtual human simulation include physics-based modelling of clothes and the modelling and simulation of patient-specific articulations of hip, knees and ankles from MRI and multi-scale data. Her work in virtual actors, models, and social robots has led to several artistic awards, including honours for films and interactive virtual reality shows that she produced or directed.

Her work is also regularly displayed at museums, galleries and fashion shows. A special exhibition in Germany’s Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum – the world’s largest museum in computer science – features Prof Magnenat-Thalmann’s most recent work – “Nadine”, a very human-like female robot equipped with advanced capabilities in awareness and memory processes.

During her illustrious career, she also established MIRALab, a groundbreaking interdisciplinary multimedia research institute. She participated in more than 50 European projects, helping the institute earn the accolade of “most European Union-funded lab in Switzerland”. She was also Vice-Rector of the University of Geneva.

Besides having bachelor's and master's degrees in disciplines such as psychology, biology, chemistry and computer science, Prof Magnenat-Thalmann completed her PhD in quantum physics at the University of Geneva.

She has received honorary doctorates from Leibniz University of Hannover in Germany and from the University of Ottawa in Canada and is an Elected Member of the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences. She is also Editor-in-Chief of The Visual Computer, co-Editor-in-Chief of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds and editor of many other scientific journals.

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