In the laboratory with… Dora Blanco Heras, a teacher at the USC and a CITIUS researcher
Post / Research Group: Tenured University Lecturer / the Computer Architecture Group
Dora’s research centres basically on the high-performance computer science area, including software optimisation techniques, the performance analysis of irregular codes and, more recently, general purpose computing in GPU. This last area has centred on processing images in real time (detecting and classifying objectives, detecting edges, visualisation, etc.) applied to medical imaging (MRI, CT scanner, etc.) and to images obtained by sensors, such as hyperspectral images. Her interests also lie in man-machine interface design with a social approach to calculate ecological footprints and other indicators relating to sustainability. As a researcher, she has participated in 26 research (national and international) projects and contracts financed by public organisations and highly relevant computing firms on the international scene like HP or Fujitsu. She has also participated in six research networks. Her work has led to 66 research works published in congresses and journals of international prestige.
1. Who is the most important scientist of the twentieth century for you? Why?
It could be any of the female scientists who have made achievements that have a decisive influence on the future despite having been immersed in an eminently masculine world. They simultaneously represent two accomplishments: scientific improvement and social barriers.
Although not the most well-known, I believe that Ada Augusta Byron (1815-1852) especially deserves acknowledgement as she was the first person to have taken computing beyond numerical operations, and she was to some extent the first programmer. Indeed a programming language created in the 1970s was baptized Ada to honour her. We can consider that it marked the starting point of a whole range of programming languages that were developed later, and which enable us to obtain maximum performance with supercomputers, PCs, mobile devices, etc.
2. Which discovery changed the world? Why? There have been many discoveries in very different areas which I consider have changed the world: vaccinations, antibiotics, the telephone or, more recently, mobile devices. Yet for my professional profile, I consider that the invention that decisively changed the world has been the computer. It began by us simply changing the way of calculating mathematical operations when around 1800, Charles Babagge developed the first “calculating machine”. It has changed all society completely by facilitating advances in research in all fields and, above all, by facilitating access to information globally; thus, it is decisively influencing the most recent cultural changes. Doubtlessly, it is an invention which, nowadays, is absolutely influencing the whole world in one way or another.
3. Why did you decide to be a researcher? Actually, I never had to make that decision because I am not just a researcher, I´m a teacher and a researcher, and these two tasks go hand in hand all my working days. Both professional facets have something to do with my curiosity in the world and with the pleasure it is for me to find out how things work and to try to see them from different perspectives. I also find it very stimulating to pay attention to problem solving. A highly satisfactory component of my work has to do with constructing ideas in collaboration with other people.
4. What is your most important research line? What results do you expect to obtain and what impact may they have on society? Currently, my most relevant research line has to do with processing multidimensional images on high-performance computers. These are medical images, images of lands obtained by satellite, marine images, etc. An example of processing would be, for example, detecting an objective on an image obtained by a hyperspectral sensor from a plane at a height of hundreds of metres from the ground.
In particular, we are developing processing techniques, some of which are based on computational intelligence such as neuronal networks, which are efficient for being executed in high-performance architectures, in which case, we refer to GPUs (graphic cards), multicore and manycore systems, and also heterogenous clusters. The aim is real-time image processing; that is, this is done by sufficiently rapid computing techniques; that is, a specialist needs to analyse an image and does not realize that it is necessary to wait between processing one image and the next.
5. In what way do you think that the “Campus Vida” surroundings improve your research? The Campus Vida Project provides visibility and an image that is common to research, which is interesting for everyone who works here, as well as shared overall objectives. It also facilitates the relation between research groups from different theme areas, but which are clearly interrelated.
CiTIUS (the Information Technologies Research Centre) provides us the researchers with a frame of highly efficient common personal resources that are associated with computational resources management, it supports research and diffusion and it facilitates our day-to-day work to make it more efficient.