University Professor Raja Parasuraman, who served as the director of the Human Factors and Applied Cognition Program and the director of the Center of Excellence in Neuroergonomics, Technology and Cognition (CENTEC) in George Mason University’s Department of Psychology, died Sunday, March 22 at age 64.
Deborah Boehm-Davis, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, had the opportunity to work with Parasuraman as a faculty member and later as the chair of the Psychology Department.
“Raja was an incredible scholar,” she says. “Perhaps more importantly, though, he was an incredible mentor, both to students and his colleagues. He led by example, and he set the bar high.”
He held appointments as professor and associate professor of psychology at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., from 1982 to 2004, and as a postdoctoral fellow and assistant research professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1978 to 1982.
He earned a bachelor of science degree with first class honors in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College, University of London, and a PhD in Psychology from Aston University, Birmingham, U.K.
Parasuraman studied human factors—how humans interact with machines—and cognitive neuroscience, which considers how the physiological structure of the brain affects our ability to acquire knowledge and understanding.
In particular, he looked at how human attention, memory, and vigilance affect performance when people work with automated and robotic systems.
He coined the term “neuroergonomics,” which he defined as understanding the mind by studying the brain (neuroscience) and understanding the mind in relation to work and technology (ergonomics). His research included work on automation, aviation, and aging, and it considered how theoretical principles concerning human interaction with mechanical systems could be applied to solving practical problems.
Parasuraman served as a member of the National Research Council’s Panel on Human Factors (Board on Human-Systems Integration) from 2000 to 2007 and as chair from 2001 to 2005.
He was on the editorial board of numerous journals. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1994), the American Psychological Association (1991), the American Psychological Society (1991), the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (1994), the International Ergonomics Association (2006), and was a National Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (2001). He was the recipient in both 1997 and 2001 of the Jerome H. Ely Award for best paper in the journal Human Factors.
In 2004, he received the Franklin V. Taylor Award for Lifetime Achievement in Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology from the American Psychological Association (Division 21). In 2006, he received the Paul M. Fitts Education Award from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society for his mentorship of students.
He received the Outstanding Faculty Award in 2009 from the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia.
In 2010, he received the inaugural Raymond S. Nickerson Award for Best Paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied by the American Psychological Association, and the Admiral Kollmorgen Spirit of Innovation Award for Contributions to Neuroergonomics from the Augmented Cognition Technical Group of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
His recent awards include the Triennial Outstanding Educators Award from the International Ergonomics Association and the Celebration of Scholarship Award from Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences (both in 2012).