Q & A with SFU's new Faculty of Applied Sciences Dean

December 13, 2017
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Eugene Fiume, an internationally recognized leader in visual modelling and computer graphics, is Simon Fraser University’s new Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

Fiume comes to SFU from the University of Toronto (U of T). In addition to his research and teaching position as a U of T computing science professor, Fiume served as chair of the Department of Computer Science (1998-2004), and was the inaugural director of the Master of Science in Applied Computing Program (2010-2016).

Under his leadership the department raised more than $3.5 million in philanthropic donations and ranked as one of the top 10 computer science departments in the world. He also helped to hire more than 30 faculty members during his term, and participated in the design of a new building for information technology.

While at the U of T, Fiume also received $6 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation/Ontario Research Fund to create a Centre for Collaborative Interactive Digital Media. He has written two books and authored or co-authored more than 130 publications.

His contributions to organizations worldwide include the scientific advisory board of the Gesellschaft für Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung (GMD) and the Max Planck Centre for Visual Computing and Communications, both in Germany. He has also served on the board of advisors for the Intel Science and Technology Centre for Visual Computing in Santa Clara, California as well as the boards of various companies.

“Dr. Fiume's strengths in teaching and research, combined with his national and international connections and his record of advancing computing and engineering sciences, will be a huge benefit for SFU, the Faculty of Applied Sciences and our engagement with the high-tech community,” says Peter Keller, vp academic and provost.

SFU News spoke with Fiume about his transition to the West Coast.

What attracted you to your field of research?

I was inspired to study computer graphics when I found that I could make beautiful images by transforming science to computation.  My research overlaps science and art, focusing on realistic computational visual depiction.

I look at everything in the physical world to see if we can capture it with computers in some way, with an eye to then allowing others to use our software to create beautiful images.  All sciences have a bit of art in them, and all arts have a bit of science in them.  The beauty of computer graphics is in how thoroughly it interweaves them.  Over the years, my interests have included modelling phenomena such as the movement and appearance of water, clouds and fire, physical light transport, and making human-like characters move and emote in natural, expressive ways.  Along the way, I have also enjoyed working on problems in computational anatomy and radiation physics.

How did you pursue your studies?

As a kid, I entered Grade 1 in the Toronto public school system as one of the sons of Italian immigrant parents.  I didn’t know a word of English when I started school, but soon enough, hospitable educational conditions allowed me to flourish. I was the first in my extended family to go to university, and pursued my interest in computing science at the University of Waterloo, completing my degree in 1981. After finishing an M.Sc. and PhD at the University of Toronto, I went to the University of Geneva in Switzerland with an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship, before joining the U of T faculty in 1987.  I have had a wonderful career thanks to many who have mentored or worked with me over the years.

What attracted you to SFU?

I love the challenge of being involved in building something big, new, exciting and hopefully long-lasting. This is a wonderful time to engage in the development of SFU’s Faculty of Applied Sciences as it builds on its strengths and accomplishments to achieve international prominence.

What are your priorities at SFU?

The key will be to recruit outstanding students, faculty and staff, propel our research internationally, expand our educational reach, enhance our fundraising, and strengthen our industrial connections.  We must also improve diversity in all its forms as a key part of the process.

In coming to SFU I am being given an amazing opportunity to help build a timely and topical new academic program in sustainable energy engineering, together with a new building in Surrey to house it.

But just as exciting is the opportunity to build on the work of many others within the Faculty of Applied Sciences to launch our existing schools into international prominence. The faculty has developed terrific momentum through its recent academic leadership, and we are now in a great position to become world leaders in the disciplines within FAS.