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Indian-born Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath given Lifetime Achievement Award by US-based Marconi Society

Born on June 7, 1935, in Pune to a Malayalam-speaking Syrian Christian family, Kailath graduated in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Pune in 1956

Stanford Univerity
Indian-born Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath given Lifetime Achievement Award by US-based Marconi Society. Twitter

New Delhi, August 15, 2017: The US-based Marconi Society has announced its Lifetime Achievement Award to Indian-born Stanford University professor Thomas Kailath, for his outstanding contributions to modern communications.

“Kailath is the sixth scientist to be honored with our Lifetime Achievement Award for his research contributions, which advanced modern communications technologies over the last six decades,” the Society said in an e-mail to IANS on Sunday night.

The 82-year-old who was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2009, is currently the Hitachi American Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, at Stanford.

The society named after Nobel Laureate Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), who invented the radio, was set up in 1975 by his daughter Gioia Marconi Braga through an endowment. It annually awards individuals whose scope of work and influence emulate the principle of “creativity in service to humanity” that inspired Marconi.

The rare honour also makes Kailath join five other recipients of the 43-year-old Society’s prestigious award, including Gordon Moore of the Moore’s Law fame and father of Information Theory Claude Shannon.

The award will be presented to Kailath at the Society’s Awards dinner at Summit, New Jersey on October 3.

At the same event, it will also honour another Indian-born and former Bell Labs president Arun Netravali, 71, with a $100,000 cash prize for his pioneering work in digital video technology, used in smartphones and TVs.

ALSO READ: India-born, US-based Arun Netravali wins 2017 Marconi Prize for Digital Video Technology

“The award is being conferred on Kailath for mentoring a generation of research scholars and writing a classic textbook in linear systems that changed the way the subject is taught and his special purpose architecture to implement the signal processing algorithms on VLSI (Very Large-sale System Integration) chips,” the Society said in the e-mail.

Kailath and his students, who together hold a dozen patents, have transitioned a part of their research into industry and co-founded four technology firms, including Integrated Systems in 1980 and Numerical Technologies in 1996.

Intel acquired Integrated as part of its WindRiver buy in 2009, while Synopsis bought Numerical earlier in 2003.

“The Marconi Award is humbling and moving, as it puts me alongside Shannon, who laid the foundation for our digital age and was one of my teachers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), though I do not consider being at his level,” Kailath told IANS.

Born on June 7, 1935, in Pune to a Malayalam-speaking Syrian Christian family, Kailath graduated in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Pune in 1956. He went to the US in 1957 to join the MIT, with research assistantship in the Information Theory Group.

He was also the first Indian-born student to be awarded a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering by the MIT in 1961.

Kailath began his career by joining the Digital Communications Research Group of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a federally funded research and development centre of NASA in Pasadena, California.

He was also a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the 1960s.

Kailath was a research guide to about 100 doctoral and post-doctoral scholars, including Indian-born scientist Arogyaswami Paulraj, emeritus professor in electrical engineering at Stanford, and whom the Society honoured with the Marconi Prize in 2014 for his work on developing wireless technology to transmit and receive data at high speed.

“Kailath has been an influential mentor to a number of Indian academics, including me. He hosted many of us at his research group at Stanford, even in lean times when federal funding was limited,” the 72-year-old Paulraj recalled.

Kailath and Paulraj are joint holders of the original US patent for Multiple Input, Multiple Output technology that makes wireless networks more efficient.

“While Marconi’s Award recognises Kailath’s achievements at the global level, we in India can take pride in his contributions to the country in advanced technologies,” added Paulraj.

Kailath, who maintained close links with the Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc) for over three decades, was advisor to the Defence Ministry in the 1970s for setting up research centres at the state-run Indian Institute of Technology to support the Air Defence Ground Environment System (ADGES) plan of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Kailath’s distinguished career earned him scores of awards and honours, notably the National Medal of Science from former US President Barack Obama in 2012 for transformative contributions in information and system science, mentoring young scholars and translating scientific ideas into entrepreneurial ventures that impacted the industry.

“Kailath has been an inspiration for generations of Indian students in communications and information systems. Many of them were privileged to listen to him for the first time, when he spoke at our convocation ceremony in 2011,” said S. Sadagopan, Director, International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-B) in Bengaluru. (IANS)

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Invasive Species May Not Be All Bad: Scientists

An active debate among biologists about the role of invasive species in a changing world is going on

Invasive Species
The invasive European green crab is tearing down ecosystems in Newfoundland and building them up on Cape Cod. VOA

Off the shores of Newfoundland, Canada, an ecosystem is unraveling at the hands (or pincers) of an invasive crab.

Some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) to the south, the same invasive crab — the European green crab — is helping New England marshes rebuild.

Both cases are featured in a new study that shows how the impacts of these alien invaders are not always straightforward.

Around the world, invasive species are a major threat to many coastal ecosystems and the benefits they provide, from food to clean water. Attitudes among scientists are evolving, however, as more research demonstrates that they occasionally carry a hidden upside.

“It’s complicated,” said Christina Simkanin, a biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, “which isn’t a super-satisfying answer if you want a direct, should we keep it or should we not? But it’s the reality.”

Simkanin co-authored a new study showing that on the whole, coastal ecosystems store more carbon when they are overrun by invasive species.

Good news, crab news

Take the contradictory case of the European green crab. These invaders were first spotted in Newfoundland in 2007. Since then, they have devastated eelgrass habitats, digging up native vegetation as they burrow for shelter or dig for prey. Eelgrass is down 50 percent in places the crabs have moved into. Some sites have suffered total collapse.

That’s been devastating for fish that spend their juvenile days among the seagrass. Where the invasive crabs have moved in, the total weight of fish is down tenfold.

The loss of eelgrass also means these underwater meadows soak up less planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the same crab is having the opposite impact.

Off the coast of New England, fishermen have caught too many striped bass and blue crabs. These species used to keep native crab populations in check. Without predators to hold them back, native crabs are devouring the marshes.

But the invasive European green crab pushes native crabs out of their burrows. Under pressure from the invader, native crabs are eating less marsh grass. Marshes are recovering, and their carbon storage capacity is growing with them.

Invasive species
In this May 8, 2016 photo, eelgrass grows in sediment at Lowell’s Cove in Harpswell, Maine. VOA

Carbon repositories

Simkanin and colleagues compiled these studies and more than 100 others to see whether the net impact on carbon storage has been positive or negative.

They found that the ones overtaken by invasive species held about 40 percent more carbon than intact habitats.

They were taken by surprise, she said, because “non-native species are thought of as being negative so often. And they do have detrimental impacts. But in this case, they seem to be storing carbon quicker.”

At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center where she works, the invasive reed Phragmites has been steadily overtaking a marsh scientists are studying.

Phragmites grows much taller, denser and with deeper roots than the native marsh grass it overruns.

But those same traits that make it a powerful invader also mean it stores more carbon than native species.

“Phragmites has been referred to as a Jekyll and Hyde species,” she said.

Not all invaded ecosystems stored more carbon. Invaded seagrass habitats generally lost carbon, and mangroves were basically unchanged. But on balance, gains from marsh invaders outweighed the others.

Invasive species
Phragmites plants growing on Staten Island draft in a breeze in the Oakwood Beach neighborhood of Staten Island. VOA

Not a lot of generalities

To be clear, Simkanin said the study is not suggesting it’s always better to let the invaders take over; but, it reflects an active debate among biologists about the role of invasive species in a changing world.

“One of the difficult things in the field of invasion biology is, there aren’t a lot of generalities,” said Brown University conservation biologist Dov Sax, who was not involved with the research. “There’s a lot of nuance.”

The prevailing view among biologists is that non-native species should be presumed to be destructive unless proven otherwise.

When 19 biologists wrote an article in 2011 challenging that view, titled, “Don’t judge species on their origins,” it drew a forceful rebuke from 141 other experts.

Sax said the argument is likely to become more complicated in the future.

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“In a changing world, with a rapidly changing climate, we do expect there to be lots of cases where natives will no longer be as successful in a region. And some of the non-natives might actually step in and play some of those ecosystem services roles that we might want,” he said.

“In that context, what do we do? I definitely don’t have all the answers.” (VOA)