Weslie Khoo, a postdoctoral fellow in computer vision at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has received a prestigious postdoc fellowship from the United States Department of Agriculture.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture fellowship is worth $225,000 over two years. It’s part of the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which is the nation’s leading competitive grants program for agricultural sciences.
Khoo’s research centers on developing artificial intelligence for nutrition. He said the fellowship will allow him to explore how to utilize AI to analyze pictures of food and identify panels of objective biomarkers to ultimately help people eat better.
“I hope this will lead to a better understanding of how we can use AI to improve the field of nutrition,” Khoo said.
The NIFA supports research, educational and extension efforts in agricultural and behavioral sciences. The aim is to improve rural economies, increase food production, stimulate the bioeconomy, mitigate climate change impact, ensure food safety and security, address water availability issues and more.
“With Weslie's talents and background in food science and data science,” said David Crandall, Luddy Professor of Computer Science, director of Luddy Artificial Intelligence Center and director of Center for Machine Learning, “he is probably among the most qualified people in the world to investigate how computer vision and AI can help people make better food choices. This well-deserved fellowship recognizes his accomplishments and the potential future impact of his research. I am lucky to mentor him.”
With the world’s population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, there’s an urgent need to meet rising food, fiber and fuel demands. This will require developing new technologies and a well-trained workforce.
“This initiative is to provide funding for the upcoming generation of researchers, education, and extension professionals who are interested in the field of food and agricultural sciences,” Khoo said. “The use of AI has the potential to vastly improve the precision and validity of dietary pattern measurements.”
Khoo said more accurate and objective measures of dietary intake will enable researchers to better assess the complex relationship between diet and health. That would pave the way for new interventions that could improve public health.
The idea for this research, he added, came while investigating how computer vision could help predict nutritional quality by analyzing photos of food with Crandall and Christina Chung, assistant professor.
“I was increasingly drawn to a particular issue -- food is something so fundamental to us, yet it is so challenging to assess and evaluate our food intake,” Khoo said.
Added Chung: “Weslie impresses with his ability to integrate his extensive knowledge of food sciences with cutting-edge machine learning algorithms to address real-world challenges in promoting healthy eating. This fellowship serves as a testament to his unwavering curiosity in exploring human perceptions of food and innovative approaches to informing artificial intelligence in the field of nutrition.”
Khoo will continue to receive mentorship from Crandall as well as USDA nutrition scientists Danielle Lemay and Lauren O’Connor.
Khoo has an extensive research background. Since starting at IU, he has also worked on a collaborative project with Toyota Research Institute on social robots to support well-being, and is part of the Ego4D Consortium to collect the next generation egocentric dataset. He is also the cofounder of Casa Birria, a company that serves birria tacos.
Khoo earned his Ph.D. in food science at Penn State and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biological chemistry at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.