Inria Awards 2011
Bruno Lévy, a pioneer of digital geometry
© Inria / Photo C. Lebedinsky
As the first winner of the Inria Young Researcher Award , Bruno Lévy sees himself, once again, comforted in his groundbreaking choices to associate applied mathematics and IT to model 3D objects using a computer, whether for video games or for digital simulation.
Approaching forty, father of two young children, researcher at Inria since 2000 and head of the ALICE project-team Bruno Lévy is happy doing research, following in the footsteps of his parents who were chemistry researchers and who probably gave him the research bug – his older sister has also chosen the same path. As for computers’, he says, «it is a passion born of my first attempts at programming, when I was about 10, with my sister as we poured over each word of the manual of the family Apple II.» What he didn’t then imagine is the feeling of freedom that research would give him, the incredible advantage of having the means to explore new paths at leisure.
A few decades later, he still programs computers, but this time to manipulate mathematical objects in three dimensions: computer-generated images for video games and, increasingly, digital simulation images for computer-aided design. They are useful for aerodynamic calculations for aircraft or subsurface modelling for oil prospecting, which was the subject of Bruno Lévy’s thesis and is a field in which he continues to be involved.
Furthermore, the team has an excellent culture of mathematical tools that it constantly enriches, often by master strokes of intuition, and of which Bruno Lévy is the insatiable architect and supervisor. His mottos include ‘know how to lose time to study untrodden paths’ and «be wrong to sometimes be pleasantly surprised» , which he strives to do by building bridges between the traditional techniques of numerical algorithms and computerised graphic geometric modelling. In this way, a decade or so ago, he invented «numerical geometry» , which several teams in the world have been exploring since, via the Graphite software platform that he developed amongst others.
"Optimal sampling by an anisotropic metric" - © Inria / ALICE
He invents scientific techniques that are both mathematical and computerised to resolve certain object representation problems and to improve digital simulation techniques. He still cannot get over having obtained, 3 years ago, a grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to test these concepts in a slightly crazy project, Goodshape, which nevertheless convinced the powers that be. ‘We are exploring very original mathematical paths to optimise the sampling of objects to be modelled from a mathematical viewpoint, in other words the best way to distribute the points across the object, which is the key to more precise and probably faster models’, he explains. These completely new optimisation techniques should make it possible to process the increasing mass of data in digital simulations.
IHe is also exploring this path with his team. He encounters many Inria researchers working on simulation, such as the GEOMETRICA project-team for the algorithmic geometry aspects, GAMMA3 for the finite element meshing aspects, Addecco which simplifies aerodynamic simulation models and Distène, a company which optimises the calculus design chains. ‘I test their data to see whether our algorithms are more effective’, he smiles, as if he were testing a new game. ‘Our objective is to develop sufficiently generic algorithms then to make them specific to this or that application. Just like for optimal sampling, we need to prove that our solutions are innovative and useful.’ He admits that he takes a lot of risks alone and with his team, which makes the rewards (the ERC grant, this Young Researcher Award and the conclusions of the recent evaluation of the Inria team) even more important.
He is an excellent speaker, is very convincing and transforms each of his presentations into a monument of rhetoric, mixing science, epistemology and humour. He tries to transmit his passion for computational research to as many people as possible. He considers that mathematics and IT have a lot in common and a lot to give by joining forces: IT is at the service of mathematics in proof verification programs and, inversely, mathematics could verify the programs to develop secure codes. ‘With this award, I would like to reinforce the mathematics, computational science and automation triad at Inria, for example in the framework of the Charles Hermite Federation, a group of four research labs working in these fields in Lorraine’ he concludes, proving that he is increasingly implicated in leading his field of research to greater heights.
Sylvain Petitjean, Head of Science at the Inria Nancy - Grand Est Research Centre
« Bruno is an excellent computer programmer and is very creative in his art, which is the manipulation and realistic visualisation of geometric objects. He chose mathematical precision to deal with the explosion in the volume of data engendered by the tangible problems of computer graphics. Bruno has gained a real international reputation in only a decade or so and communicates his enthusiasm marvellously on each occasion. »
Jocelyne Dias, Head of Administration at the Inria Nancy - Grand Est Research Centre
« Bruno is an eminent scientist who has managed to stay down to earth, straightforward and accessible even for the non-scientist that I am. He is very demanding of himself and of those who work with him but is always attentive to others. He has a devastating sense of humour, which often brightens up our board meetings, plus a great classical culture, from Lucretius to Plato, which enriches our discussions!»
Dinesh Manocha, professor of computer graphics at the University of North Carolina, in charge of the 2010 evaluation of the Inria computer graphics teams
« I have been fortunate enough to work closely with Bruno Lévy in recent years. I consider him to be one of the leading authorities in the world of geometric modelling and in its applications to computer graphics and scientific calculation. Some of his results in sampling, spectral geometric processing and texture creation are references in the field and are now cited in pedagogical material. Under his leadership, the Alice project-team generated a lot of major scientific results and produces excellent publications. »
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