Deciphering the Meaning of Infant Facial Expression

September 27, 2019


Ghada Zamzmi

One of the biggest mysteries in dealing with infants is figuring out what they are communicating to people, long before the child has acquired language skills.

Distinguishing between a baby’s facial expressions, such as when it is hungry or in pain, is the focus of research conducted by Ghada Zamzmi, who earned her Master of Science in Computer Science and a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering at USF.

Healthcare workers rely on cues such as cries, expressions and movements along with vital signs to determine infant pain levels. The work that Zamzmi and her fellow researchers are doing uses computer vision and machine learning to do the same thing automatically.

“Such a system can improve care outcomes by providing continuous monitoring and enhancing the assessment of pain while decreasing the burden of pain assessment documentation. It will also reduce the human judgment subjectivity,” says Zamzmi .

Using facial recognition technology to assess infant pain was the topic of Zamzmi’s doctoral thesis and she continues working on the project while fulfilling a Research Fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. She says improvements like device portability and expanding to other groups, such as autistic patients, are in progress. Other research that Zamzmi is working on includes developing advanced AI systems to extract medical information from text, image and video sources.

Applying computer visioning and machine learning in  a medical setting is the kind of transdisciplinary research that Zamzmi says USF prepared her to undertake.

“The Computer Science and Engineering department covers a lot of topics and has a very good reputation. I learned a variety of fundamentals and worked on challenging real-world projects.”

Zamzmi adds that studying in a field that is 75-percent male (according to Pew Research Center) meant she was sometimes the only female in a class or lab, but says she was never treated differently. Zamzmi gives credit to USF and the College of Engineering for promoting an inclusive environment, and organizations like Women in Computer Science and Engineering for providing support and showing what is possible through networking events.

“They also invite successful female scientists and allow them to meet with other females in the department,” she says.

Earning a PhD in an engineering field at USF is a challenge Zamzmi says she did not initially plan to undertake, but she is glad she achieved that goal.

“You need to focus and work hard. I believe anything is possible. It’s just a matter of how much effort you want to put into it to make it happen. I had a very good and rewarding experience there.”