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Scientist of the Year 2019 puts the sparkle in your eye

Recognizing extensive work to accurately represent texture and color, Eric Kirchner has been named AkzoNobel’s Scientist of the Year 2019. Building on technology from movie and video game development, he’s gone way beyond color for our customers.

If you watch movies or play video games, you know there’s often quite a difference between what you see and real life. It’s difficult to make the color in generated images look super realistic. The colors are often not accurate and some aspects of what you see, like sparkle, are almost impossible to replicate.

We say almost impossible because AkzoNobel’s Scientist of the Year 2019 – Eric Kirchner, Senior Scientist in Color from our Technology team – has done it.

“It’s a great honor to receive this award for my work going beyond color,” says Kirchner. “Digital visualization is an attractive way for us as a paint company to engage and inspire our customers – when we get it right.”

Kirchner has been working with AkzoNobel for more than 20 years to improve our understanding of paint and color phenomena. His work on color takes advantage of the latest developments in hardware, cloud-based solutions, sensor and measuring techniques, computing power and artificial intelligence. He is highly regarded by universities, industry players and even world-class museums.

The Scientist of the Year award honors scientists who are translating science and technology into successful products and customer solutions. It’s the perfect opportunity to recognize Kirchner’s contributions to AkzoNobel and his broader impact in the field of color – which, in some cases, you can literally see with your own eyes.

Kirchner explains: “Two of our biggest challenges have been figuring out how to show texture and color accurately – and I’m proud to say we’ve solved them. We’re now able to dynamically visualize color in 3D and offer a true representation of color, gloss, textures and other effects. The underlying technology is now powering apps throughout our businesses.”

The new visualization technology is based on a close collaboration with several universities and data science experts, together with AkzoNobel’s color technology team and color marketing teams from several business units.

“We’re not done yet – more opportunities lie ahead in full digitalization and collaborative innovation, such as in our partnership with the Rijksmuseum to restore Rembrandt’s most famous painting through Operation Night Watch,” adds Kirchner.

At the intersection of science and art

The choice of Kirchner for the award highlights an interesting overlap between science and art – which has also been neatly captured in the physical award.

In a collaboration between internationally renowned artist Itamar Gilboa, the AkzoNobel Art Foundation and the AkzoNobel Research and Development Team, a series of brain sculptures has been designed as the award for the Scientist of the Year.

The award is part of Gilboa’s Body of Work research project, in which the artist collected data about his body using advanced medical imaging technologies – such as MRI and CT scans – and used the data to create sculptural “self-portraits”.

In collaboration with scientists, Gilboa mapped his brain activity while thinking about this project and while creating art. This activity has been translated into 3D printable files that highlight the active part of the brain during creative thinking – and these formed the basis for the new award’s design.

“The winners of the innovation awards are great minds, people that push themselves and those around them to reach their fullest potential,” says Gilboa. “They use creativity and innovation, and to me as an artist that is inspiring. The awards I created capture exactly that part of the brain. I am thrilled to share this with them.”