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Cornell NYC's 'Rock Star' Hires Bridge Gap Between Academia, Tech Startups

By Amy Zimmer | October 14, 2013 2:54pm
 A rendering of Cornell NYC Tech on Roosevelt Island.
A rendering of Cornell NYC Tech on Roosevelt Island.
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MANHATTAN — Four “rock stars” in the world of computer science and engineering have been plucked from the increasingly intersecting world of academia and business to join the faculty of Cornell NYC Tech, school officials announced Monday.

The foursome will be leading the first class of graduate students, who began their fall semester last month at Google's offices in Chelsea, as Cornell preps to break ground early next year on its massive $2 billion, 2-million-square-foot Roosevelt Island campus.  

The school — which has also formed collaborations with companies like Hearst, Facebook and Tumblr, among others, in its quest to create entrepreneurial-minded engineers — stressed how its new hires have built an impressive array of real-world tech applications.

Serge Belongie, a specialist in computer vision and machine learning, heads to New York from the University of California at San Diego, where he actually played in a rock band with others from his engineering department. Named one of the top 100 young tech innovators in the world by the MIT Technology Review in 2004, Belongie helped develop vision technology for the blind, video-based fire detection systems and an electronic eye to monitor delicate coral reefs.

Mor Naaman, a social media expert and entrepreneur, will be splitting his time between Cornell and his start-up, Seen, which aims to make sense of social media content in real time by summarizing and organizing information, school officials said. He was the first hire at the school’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, offering a two-year master's degree designed to train engineers to fill a void in the media sector. Naaman was also a professional basketball player in his native Israel.

Rafael Pass, who is in the midst of creating a new company that uses cryptography to create privacy-preserving electronic services, and Ramin Zabih, a leader in the field of computer vision who is working on how doctors can use computers to understand and analyze images, are both coming from Cornell’s Ithaca campus.

“All four of our new faculty are not only on the cutting edge of research but are actively translating their work into real, practical solutions for everyday life,” Dan Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech, said in a statement. “We are looking for faculty members who bring the highest academic standards combined with entrepreneurial experience and spirit.”