Carnegie Mellon University
May 10, 2022

Klatzky Elected into National Academy of Science

By Stacy Kish

Roberta Klatzky, the Charles J. Queenan, Jr. University Professor of Psychology, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She is an expert in cognition whose research examines the relationships between human perception and action, with a focus on touch.

Election to the National Academy is considered a great honor for any scientist,” said Klatzky. “I am trying to come to grips with this in my own head. This honor is the crowning achievement in a career.”

After completing her undergraduate major in mathematics, Klatzky considered graduate work in the field but was faced with discrimination. She found a welcome home at Stanford University, where she pursued her interest through the lens of psychology.

Her research career has combined mathematics and psychology to study perception, action and touch from the perspective of multiple modalities, sensory and symbolic, in real and virtual environments. She studies how people use cues from the sensory world to navigate their environment. Her research has been instrumental to the development of telemanipulation, image-guided surgery, navigation aids for the blind and neural rehabilitation.

“I have been fortunate to work with colleagues in robotics and engineering all over the world to apply the study of perceptual systems in interesting, controlled and novel ways to answer questions that are not possible without engineering interfaces,” she said.

Klatzky’s position at CMU spans the Psychology Department in Dietrich College, as well as the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and the Neuroscience Institute.

“Bobby’s continued scientific excellence and academic leadership is an inspiration to all of us. She exemplifies the innovative and multidisciplinary scholarship that makes the CMU community a truly great place to learn and explore,” said Michael Tarr, the Kavčić-Moura Professor of Cognitive and Brain Science and head of the Department of Psychology. “The positive impact she has on her students and colleagues is something I treasure, and it gives me great pleasure to see her contributions acknowledged at the highest level by the National Academy.”

Klatzky has authored more than 300 articles and chapters and has written or edited seven books. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and various professional associations. She has received an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award and the Kurt Koffka Medaille from Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen, Germany for her work on perception and action. In 2018, Klatzky was elevated to Fellow in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest technical professional organization.

Klatzky joins 119 members and international members newly elected into the National Academy of Sciences, a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Klatzky hopes the field of psychology will retain its roots in basic behavioral science as it develops new thrusts such as neuroscience and machine learning. She would like to see mathematics featured in training psychologists of the next generation, so they can use this language to communicate with engineers on important collaborations.

“Hard problems demand collaboration, and mathematics provides the anchor point that allows me to talk to engineers on projects,” said Klatzky. “I am a good exemplar of Carnegie Mellon, where I can cross the boundaries from basic theory and bring these ideas into the world of applications.”