They are building cost-revolutionary supercomputers, next generation modems, faster computer chips, anthrax antidotes and anti-HIV therapy, groundbreaking technology, and one even hopes his scientific innovations will make hospitals a thing of the past. They have walked the hallowed corridors of Harvard, CalTech, MIT, Stanford. Superdoctors and superscientists, they are brilliant, below 35, and...Indian.
Nine of the best Indian-origin brains in America have been honoured with niches in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Technology Review magazine’s 2004 list of Top 100 Young Innovators (TR100), and awards, at Technology Review’s Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT, recently.
Leading the charge are three city-breds who have made the US their home — Ramesh Raskar, Smruti Vidwans and Dr Ravi Kane. While Raskar is a College of Engineering, Pune (COEP) alumni, Vidwans and Kane spent their formative years in Pune. Raskar (34), a Visiting Research Scientist at Mitsubishi Electric features in the TR100 for his large computer display systems that combine images from multiple projectors, which could lead to new applications in entertainment, image-guided surgery, and user interfaces.
A Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, Vidwans (30) is currently fighting TB. She feels the solution may be new drugs that don’t kill the bacteria but block the proteins that allow them to reproduce. She is launching a company to develop such drugs.
Puneite Number Three — Dr Ravi Kane (32) — is an Assistant Professor with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Kane has created a highly potent anthrax treatment in which each drug molecule blocks multiple toxin molecules. He is extending the concept to anti-HIV therapies.
Vidwans puts her finger on the current approach to tech-based solutions by technovaters like herself. Quoting pioneering Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, she says it’s time for business and innovation to revolutionise and expand to the bottom 5 billion souls on this planet. ‘‘Figuring out how to do that is the challenge of our generation and the 21st century,’’ she adds.
At 28, young enough to admit he gets a kick out of finally being a ‘‘Dr Kumar,’’ is Vikram Sheel Kumar. An MD, PhD from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Kumar says: ‘‘The biggest dream I have is that one day we can close all the hospitals.’’
A resident in Clinical Pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, Kumar’s innovations are to do with mobile computing, that use simple, portable computer programmes that encourage people to self-monitor their health, and stick with regularity to treatment regimens.
While still a medical student, Kumar started a company in Boston called Dimagi, to develop such tools. Kumar quoted Rahul Dravid who remarked after his historic knocks in Australia, ‘‘I sure hope this is not the highest point in my career!’’
Kumar gave up IIT Delhi after a year to move to America, and a decade later, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Already his PDA based systems are being used in rural India and South Africa.
Then come two gifted engineers from polar backgrounds and now working for Texas Instruments. While Dr Anuj Batra, after schooling in New Delhi, completed his education in the US, Dr Chaitali Sengupta stayed in small-town West Bengal till she received her bachelor of technology degree in computer science and engineering from IIT, Kharagpur, and then moved to Rice University (USA) for her MS and PhD in electrical engineering.
Batra’s innovation is the ground-breaking multi-band OFDM physical layer proposal for Texas Instruments, a proposal for the next generation wireless Ultra Wideband (UWB) based physical layer for very high speed communications.
Sengupta would now be the toast of the modem and mobile wireless community. A senior technical staff at TI, she has made innovative contributions to wireless (3G) modem implementation—high-speed data coupled with wide area mobility.
Globalisation has evened the playing field. The next ten years will be owned by those who innovate — Vikram Sheel Kumar
1. Dr Anuj Batra (34), Systems Engineer, Texas Instruments: Leads one of the industry’s top teams advancing ultra wideband wireless technology, which provides the high transmission speeds needed for streaming-media applications while consuming little power.
2. Ramesh Raskar (34), Visiting Research Scientist, Mitsubishi Electric: Built large computer display systems that seamlessly combine images from multiple projectors.
3. Dr Chaitali Sengupta (34), Systems Architect, Texas Instruments: Oversees the architecture of communications chips used in advanced cellular systems. The chips let multimedia cellphones more easily handle Internet access, videoconferencing, and mobile commerce.
4. Srinidhi Varadarajan (31), Director, Terascale Computing Facility, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: Conceived and built the world’s third-fastest supercomputer from a cluster of 1,100 Apple Macintoshes for $5 million.
5. Mayank Bulsara (32), Cofounder and Chief Technology Officer, AmberWave Systems: Co-founded Salem, AmberWave to develop strained silicon, an advanced form of silicon that makes computer chips run faster and consume less power.
6. Dr Ravi Kane (32), Assistant Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Created a highly potent anthrax treatment.
7. Smruti Vidwans (30), Postdoctoral Fellow University of California, San Francisco: Resistance to TB drugs is on the rise. Vidwans thinks the solution may be new drugs that don’t kill the bacteria but block the proteins that allow them to reproduce in people.
8. Dr Vikram Sheel Kumar (28), Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer, Dimagi: Founded Dimagi in Boston to develop interactive software that motivates patients to manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and AIDS.
9. Ananth Natarajan (33), Chief Executive Officer, Infinite Biomedical Technologies: Co-founded his Baltimore firm to bridge the gap between research and patient care. One of its technologies will enable implantable cardiac devices to detect incipient heart attacks.