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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Weibo Gong

Second Advisor

Patrick Kelly

Third Advisor

Don Towsley

Subject Categories

Other Computer Engineering | Signal Processing


Image processing and understanding is a key task in the human visual system. Among all related topics, content based image retrieval and classification is the most typical and important problem. Successful image retrieval/classification models require an effective fundamental step of image representation and feature extraction. While traditional methods are not capable of capturing all structural information on the image, using graph to represent the image is not only biologically plausible but also has certain advantages.

Graphs have been widely used in image related applications. Traditional graph-based image analysis models include pixel-based graph-cut techniques for image segmentation, low-level and high-level image feature extraction based on graph statistics and other related approaches which utilize the idea of graph similarity testing. To compare the images through their graph representations, a graph similarity testing algorithm is essential. Most of the existing graph similarity measurement tools are not designed for generic tasks such as image classification and retrieval, and some other models are either not scalable or not always effective. Graph spectral theory is a powerful analytical tool for capturing and representing structural information of the graph, but to use it on image understanding remains a challenge.

In this dissertation, we focus on developing fast and effective image analysis models based on the spectral graph theory and other graph related mathematical tools. We first propose a fast graph similarity testing method based on the idea of the heat content and the mathematical theory of diffusion over manifolds. We then demonstrate the ability of our similarity testing model by comparing random graphs and power law graphs. Based on our graph analysis model, we develop a graph-based image representation and understanding framework. We propose the image heat content feature at first and then discuss several approaches to further improve the model. The first component in our improved framework is a novel graph generation model. The proposed model greatly reduces the size of the traditional pixel-based image graph representation and is shown to still be effective in representing an image. Meanwhile, we propose and discuss several low-level and high-level image features based on spectral graph information, including oscillatory image heat content, weighted eigenvalues and weighted heat content spectrum. Experiments show that the proposed models are invariant to non-structural changes on images and perform well in standard image classification benchmarks. Furthermore, our image features are robust to small distortions and changes of viewpoint. The model is also capable of capturing important image structural information on the image and performs well alone or in combination with other traditional techniques. We then introduce two real world software development projects using graph-based image processing techniques in this dissertation. Finally, we discuss the pros, cons and the intuition of our proposed model by demonstrating the properties of the proposed image feature and the correlation between different image features.