In Memoriam…


Maria Petrou, IAPR Fellow

17 May 1953-15 October 2012


by Josef Kittler, IAPR Fellow  (UK)

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It is with sadness that the IAPR Newsletter must report that shortly before ICPR 2012, Maria Petrou, IAPR Fellow and a leading authority on image processing, passed away.


In this article in the “Getting to Know...IAPR Fellows” series, Josef Kittler shares with us some of her many interests, achievements and awards.

~ A. Kuijper, ed.

Maria Petrou was born in Greece and educated at the University of Thessaloniki, where she graduated in Physics in 1975. For her outstanding performance she was awarded a studentship, giving her an opportunity to study abroad. The award brought her to the United Kingdom to study Mathematics Part III at Churchill College, Cambridge, which was followed by PhD studies in Astronomy. She gained a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge in 1981.  After her PhD she returned to Greece to take up a post as Lecturer at the Department of Astronomy, University of Athens, but her longing for a fulfilling research career brought her back to the United Kingdom to take a Research Fellowship at St Hilda’s College, Department of Theoretical Physics, Oxford in 1983.

She married a fellow PhD researcher with whom she had one son. With two astronomers in the family, Maria decided, in 1986, to switch her field of research from science to engineering and accepted a postdoctoral research position in image processing, first at Reading University, and subsequently at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

She joined the University of Surrey as a Lecturer in Image Analysis in 1988.  She played a key role in the development of the Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing, and deserves all the credit for its growth in the areas of Remote Sensing and Medical Imaging. In recognition of her outstanding research achievements, she was rapidly promoted to increasingly senior academic positions, culminating in Professor of Image Analysis in 1998. She enjoyed teaching as much as research. Her Wiley book on Image Processing: The fundamentals, originally published in 1999, was very popular, and was reprinted several times (see IAPR Newsletter review of the 2nd Edition).

In the scientific community, Maria is famous for her outstanding contributions to image analysis and its application, especially to remote sensing. She proposed a novel image representation for image matching known as trace transform. She developed advanced techniques for edge and line detection, for texture analysis and for image segmentation. She was a specialist in colour image processing and developed an award winning stereo-based 3D mensuration system for the stone industry. The number of citations to her work runs into thousands. For her outstanding contributions to Engineering, she obtained her DSc degree from Cambridge University in 2009.

During her illustrious academic career she worked on challenging projects, such as the EPSRC Basic Research project  “Reverse engineering the human vision system”. Being a working mother, she had a bee in her bonnet about domestic chores, and eventually succeeded in getting funding from the Cognitive Systems and Robotics Programme of the European Commission to develop an ironing robot. Ironing is a particularly challenging task from the Computer Vision point of view because cloths have complex shapes and difficult nonrigid surfaces for vision systems to understand.

She also contributed enthusiastically and tirelessly to the activities of professional societies in various capacities. She served as Chairman of the British Machine Vision Association during 1999-2002. She was on the editorial board of several scientific journals, including IEEE Transactions on Image Processing (1994-98). She was heavily involved in the organisation of many scientific conferences. In the IET, she served as an Honorary Editor of IET Electronics Letters, as an elected member of the Council of IET (2004-2007), as a Trustee of IET (2007-2009), and as a member of the Publications Board of IET (2006-2008). In the International Association for Pattern Recognition (IAPR) she held the post of Chairman of IAPR Technical Committee TC7:  Remote Sensing (1998-2002), and that of IAPR Treasurer during 2002-2006.

In the period 1994-1998 she served as IAPR Newsletter Editor. She loved that job which gave her an opportunity to share her sense of humour with the IAPR community. She also enjoyed drawing cartoons, which lightened many issues of the IAPR Newsletter.

The external recognition of her academic achievements, and contributions to professional activities includes many accolades. She was elected Fellow of IET in 1998 and Fellow of IAPR in 2000. In 2004, she was elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and in 2006, she was awarded the title of Distinguished Fellow of BMVA. She received the ScD degree from Cambridge University in 2006.

Professor Petrou left the University of Surrey in 2005 to lead the Communications and Signal Processing Group at the Department of Electrical Engineering, Imperial College London. In 2009, she became the Director of the Informatics and Telematics Institute in the Centre for Research and Development, Hellas, in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Maria’s outstanding achievements were the product of her scientific excellence and hard work as well as her enormous courage and determination. A Special Edition of Pattern Recognition Letters celebrating her life and work will be published in January 2014.

Maria’s energy, devotion, professionalism, empathy and friendship marked the lives of many of us, and of her students, in an unforgettable way. It was pleasure to work with her and to benefit from her wisdom and generosity. It was privilege to know her.  She will be sadly missed by her friends and colleagues in the international pattern recognition and image analysis community.

Cartoon from the July 1998 issue of the IAPR Newsletter, Maria Petrou, Editor-in-Chief.

Cartoon from the April 1998 issue of the IAPR Newsletter, Maria Petrou, Editor-in-Chief..