9 September 2006 -- Innovative technology has provided America its driving force as well as its competitive edge. And in recent years Indian-Americans have been contributing a significant slice of this technology – far in excess of their present population in the United States. Consider this: Indian Americans comprise just under 1 percent of the country’s population, but their contribution to innovative technology is 12-17% according to MIT’s Technology Review magazine.
That’s a 50% increase over the previous year, and a 70% increase since 2004.
The six Indian-Americans are: Prithwish Basu of BBN Technologies, Ram Krishnamurthy of Intel, Ashok Maliakal of Lucent Technologies’ Bell Laboratories, Anand Raghunathan of NEC Laboratories America, Jay Shendure of Harvard Medical School and Sumeet Singh of Cisco Systems Inc.
PRITHWISH BASU, Networking Unplugged
Sending and receiving data can be difficult for people on the move, especially when they travel out of the range of a stationary wireless base. Enter "ad hoc networks," in which radios communicate directly with each other-no central base station required.
Prithwish Basu, a scientist at BBN Technologies in Cambridge, MA, has developed algorithms that dramatically reduce the chance that a wireless network will drop connections or fail, all while decreasing the energy consumed by battery-powered radios. The algorithms will work for networks of sensors, for people carrying mobile computers, or even for groups of robots with onboard radios.
The U.S. Defense Department is interested in testing these designs as a way to help keep soldiers in touch on the battlefield, but Basu’s true passion is finding ways to incorporate ad hoc networks into everyday life.
Basu explains: “To keep mobile soldiers in contact with one another and with command, ad hoc networking is the most attractive solution. On the commercial end, people were a little skeptical a few years ago. But sensor networks have really taken off recently. People are buying sensors and deploying them to monitor different phenomena: traffic, pollution, wildlife habitats, train schedules. So I’ve been pushing my company to look more into commercial aspects.”
As for nonmilitary applications, Basu goes on: “When I was a graduate student at Boston University, I proposed networking parking meters. You put wireless transmitters on each parking meter in a city; then you add a sensor that can tell whether there is a car in that spot. If my car also has a transmitter and I am entering Harvard Square from one direction, I can ask my user interface for a parking space near the law school. My car will query the nearest meter, and if that one’s full, it will propagate the query until it finds a free spot, and then even reserves it, if possible. The network could also allow parking police to determine violators almost instantly. A number of undergraduates are now implementing a network based on these principles.”
ASHOK MALIAKAL’S Floppy Screen
Plastic semiconductors have already found their way into a number of electronic gadgets, providing displays that are bright and easy to read even in direct sunlight. But efforts to make larger plastic displays--say, a computer monitor that rolls up and slides into your bag-have hit a roadblock: the electronic circuitry that drives their colorful pixels consumes too much power, and existing materials don’t print well onto large sheets of plastic.
Working at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ, organic chemist Ashok Maliakal has homed in on this problem. One major challenge, he says, was to improve the circuits’ gate dielectric-the insulating layer that enables their transistors to switch properly from "on" to "off."
Maliakal designed a completely new dielectric material comprising nanoparticles of titanium dioxide encapsulated in polymer shells. The titanium dioxide boosts the material’s insulating properties, while the polymer makes it easy to print. Prototype circuits made with the material operate at to roll.
ANAND RAGHUNATHAN, Making mobile secure
PCs have long been under siege from malware writers and identity thieves, but as more mobile devices connect to the Internet, they too are becoming targets--which could have even worse repercussions. Viruses that infect cell phones or PDAs can spread via Bluetooth, a wireless technology commonly used to connect handheld gadgets to PCs and onboard computers in cars. The consequences could be severe if a virus hopped from a phone to a networked PC behind a corporate firewall--or to a car's navigation system, jumbling GPS information or worse.
To make mobile devices more secure, Anand Raghunathan and his team at NEC Laboratories America have given them a supplementary processor, dubbed Moses. The processor performs all of a device's security functions, such as encryption and user authentication. Using a separate security processor isolates all the system's encryption keys, which protect passwords and personal information. So if a virus did hit a device, it couldn't access the passwords needed to log in to a bank account or an office computer; its effects would be limited. In addition, because Moses is specially designed to encrypt and decrypt data efficiently, a phone using the processor requires one-fifth the time and consumes one-third the power of a traditional cell phone performing the same tasks. The security processors will be installed in millions of cell phones over the next few years, Raghunathan says. And he predicts that other devices will benefit from Moses, too. Radio frequency identification tags, networked sensors, and MP3 players--any small gadget with a limited power supply--could use the technology.
SUMEET SINGH: Faster defenses against computer viruses
Current antivirus systems rely on humans: when a network attack comes to light, security analysts begin looking for a string of bytes--a "signature"--that uniquely identifies the malicious program. The signature must be downloaded (often automatically) before software can identify and block attacks. But the whole process takes hours--or days--while attacks can infect up to 55 million computers per second.
Sumeet Singh has completely automated worm and virus detection, putting defenders on the same footing as attackers. As a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, Singh realized that worms and viruses move through a network differently from normal traffic: malicious code strives to reproduce and propagate itself rather than simply to travel from point A to point B. So he created software tools that scan for snippets of data that exhibit such behavior.
Incorporated into a network router or switch, Singh's software can identify malicious code when it first enters a network and generate "vaccines" to combat its spread. In June 2004, Singh cofounded NetSift with his PhD advisor, computer science professor George Varghese, to commercialize his technology. Cisco purchased NetSift just a year later; Singh has since led the integration of his techniques into Cisco routers and switches. He hopes that this technology, able to scan more than 20 gigabits of data per second, will eventually stop viruses and worms as soon as they pop up.
In addition to developing the fundamental approach – called “content sifting” – Singh was instrumental in transitioning these ideas from the lab to the marketplace. In the summer of 2004, he put his Ph.D. on hold to co-found Netsift, Inc. – a company acquired only a year later by Cisco Systems Inc. for approximately $30 million in cash and options. Sumeet currently works at Cisco Systems Inc. “When Sumeet created the early prototypes in 2004, nearly instantaneous identification of a worm or virus outbreak across a network was widely viewed as an impossible problem,” said Stefan Savage, a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering and a former NetSift, Inc. consultant.
Sumeet’s contribution to this open problem in network security, however, demonstrated that you can filter heavy network traffic and both identify outbreaks almost as soon as they occur and generate a “fingerprint” or signature of the virus or worm. These signatures, typically about 40 characters in length, can be used by network engineers to block the malicious traffic or otherwise contain the outbreak
JAY SHENDURE: The $1,000 genome
Biotechnologist and medical student Jay Shendure is revolutionizing genetics with a new way to sequence DNA.
In 2005, he used off-the-shelf parts to determine the order of all the DNA bases in a bacterial genome, at 20 times the speed and one-ninth the cost of traditional DNA sequencing. Shendure is now working to make the process even more efficient; by 2015, he says, it may enable biologists to sequence a person’s genome for just $1,000.
The technique builds on polony sequencing, a method developed in George Church’s lab at Harvard. Shendure spreads millions of tiny beads on a glass slide, each attached to a small DNA fragment. He then adds fluorescently labeled DNA bases. The bases bind to short, complementary DNA sequences, and a standard fluorescence microscope records which base is at each position on a fragment.
Shendure next plans to use the technique to sequence the genome of a lung tumor in order to identify the genetic mutations that caused it.
RAM K.KRISHNAMURTHY, Cooler computers
If PCs soon run at a cool 10 gigahertz, it may be thanks largely to Ram Krishnamurthy’s work
As chip makers increase computing power by packing more and more transistors into the same space, they could end up with chips that become too hot to operate. In fact, if the pace continues, by 2010 computer chips will theoretically generate as much heat per square centimeter as a nuclear reactor.
By carefully plotting chip circuit paths, Intel engineer Ram Krishnamurthy has minimized energy leakage and improved performance; his prototype circuits run fi ve times as fast as those in today’s PCs but consume 20 to 25 percent as much power. In less than a decade Krishnamurthy has amassed 53 U.S. patents relating to circuit design. Intel, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard are already incorporating aspects of his work into advanced circuits that will lead to servers requiring no costly cooling systems, as well as to laptops with longer battery life.
The editors of Technology Review say that their work--spanning medicine, computing, communications, electronics, nanotechnology, and more--is poised to change our world. "The TR35 is among the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on a young innovator," says Technology Review Editor in Chief Jason Pontin. "We hail their accomplishments and look forward to even more from them in the future." TR reminds us that the winners from previous years "have changed your world."
The 35 are being profiled in the September/October issue of MIT's magazine of innovation and at www.technologyreview.com/TR35.
Founded in 1899, Technology Review describes emerging technologies and analyzes their commercial, economic, social and political impact for an audience of senior executives, researchers, financiers and policymakers, as well as for the MIT alumni. In addition, Technology Review, Inc. produces technologyreview.com, a website that offers daily news and opinion on emerging technologies. It also produces live events such as the Emerging Technologies Conference.
According to Pontin, “The TR35 is an amazing group of people. Their accomplishments are likely to shape their fields for decades to come.” Pontin adds: "The members of this year's TR35 are solving long-standing problems and creating entirely new technologies. Their innovations address both everyday concerns and lofty goals."
The honorees are selected by the editors of the magazine in collaboration with a prestigious panel of judges from major institutions and corporations including Boston University, Hewlett-Packard Labs, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Caltech and Applied Materials.
Besides being featured on Technology Review's new video blog--the TR Vlog (www.technologyreview.com/blog/video.aspx )--designed to highlight visually the personalities of the innovators, many of the TR35 will also be on hand at Technology Review's annual Emerging Technologies Conference, held at MIT on September 27-28, 2006: http://www.technologyreview.com/events/tretc/index.aspx.