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Meet A Scientist

Dr. Karl Ricanek  Dr. Ricanek body builder

Dr. Karl Ricanek, Assistant Professor - Department of Computer Science


As a kid growing up in urban Washington DC , I was book smart but not common sense smart. I loved to watch cartoons, particularly “Tom & Jerry”. One day I got a large needle and poked my older brother in the butt to see if he would jump as high as Tom did when Jerry poked him. I learned a very important lesson that day. My brother taught me that in real life there are repercussions for your actions. Life is definitely not like the cartoons! I was always interested in math and science. I was the first kid in my neighborhood to get a computer. In those days we didn't have the kinds of games for computers that are available today, so I taught myself how to program by using a variety of help manuals and then created my own games! For awhile I wanted to be an astronaut but my vision wasn't perfect. I also thought robotics was pretty cool, but from an early age I knew that what I really wanted to be was an engineer. When it was time for me to go to college I decided to study electrical engineering and chose to enroll at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University . Ron McNair, a prominent African American scientist and astronaut who died in the space shuttle Challenger explosion, had also graduated from NCA&T (http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/mcnair.html).

While I was in college my dad became very sick and I had to find a way to pay my tuition. I was fortunate to get a co-op position with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Rhode Island (http://www.nuwc.navy.mil/). I was able to complete college and then stayed on at NCA&T to earn a masters degree in Artificial Intelligence. After graduation I went to work for NUWC full time and also began working on my doctorate. My research involved the development of a face recognition program. How does the human mind recognize people it hasn't seen for more than 20 years? This remains the focus of my science research and I am currently working on the development of algorithms to model how the human face ages. So far, the application has been used for adult faces, but we are working on adapting the program to use with children. This application would greatly benefit authorities who try to locate missing children (http://www.courttv.com/news/hiddentraces/boyinthebox/recon_side2.html). Currently, a forensic artist has to guess at what a child who has been missing for a long time would look like by studying the faces of their parents and siblings. However, the changes that occur over time in a face are very complex, further complicated by a mixed-racial heritage. The program we are developing will take this into account.

I am very passionate about my work and about getting more kids, particularly minorities (http://www.nacme.org/precollege/) interested in science and technology. I also enjoy teaching and believe it is my job to cultivate students' talents and gifts. When I'm not working on my research, I like to work out at the gym. I find body building to be both mentally and physically challenging. It is also rewarding. I recently won the title “Best in Show” for all weight classes at a regional competition. Now my goal is to compete nationally.

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