Scholar Profile: Get to know international scholar, Oskar Elek

By Brian Lee 

Oskar Elek

Oskar Elek, an international scholar, started as a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Cruz in the winter of 2019. Elek is a computational media researcher in assistant professor Angus Forbes’ Creative Coding lab.

UC Santa Cruz Creative Coding is a team of interdisciplinary researchers and artists affiliated with the Computational Media department on campus with a focus on applied research in interaction and visualization. They also focus on the exploration of experimental and creative works based on current techniques in human-computer interaction, scientific and information visualization, graphics, computer vision, immersive environments, and machine learning.

Hailing from Slovakia/Czechia, Elek earned his degree in computer science with equal emphasis on the ‘computer’ and ‘science’ aspects.

Elek’s field of research, visual computing, involves looking at how computers can help generate images, design physical objects with 3D printers, visualize data from different walks of life, and explain what we see around us.

“The core of my work is designing novel algorithms, especially those that deal with visual information. The objective is to save computational resources and users’ time, so that experts — engineers, designers, and artists — can focus their energy on creative things. And it doesn’t end there: computers have a huge potential to reveal to us knowledge that we are unaware of — our blind spots, in other words. All this really is at the heart of Computer Science: enhancing and complementing what people can do, rather than taking it over. The current AI rush of mindlessly automating everything might suggest otherwise, but this is at least what I believe.” Elek said.

While here, Elek has enjoyed exploring and meandering across different ideas and topics. He believes that freedom, along with interdisciplinary collaboration is vital for scientists who do not want to lose perspective of what they do and why.

His most memorable moment so far was realizing how to apply a model for simulating the growth of the Physarum Polycephalum fungus to help to explain the extragalactic gas distribution on astronomical scales.

“Moments like this — discovering how reality connects on different levels,” Elek said, “are why people spend their lives doing science. They are rare and intoxicating.”

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