Two scientists of Indian origin to receive prestigious American science awards

Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath, chosen by the Marconi Society to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo: Marconi Society)

The Marconi Society, an American organization dedicated to furthering scientific achievements in communications and the Internet, has bestowed its  Lifetime Achievement Award on Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath.

This is only the sixth time in the Society’s 43-year history that the award has been given.

Kailath will receive his award at the annual Marconi Society Awards dinner Oct. 23, in Summit, New Jersey, at Nokia Bell Labs, where another renowned Indian-American, former Bell Labs President Arun Netravali will be honored with the $100,000 Marconi Prize for Digital Video. Netravali is regarded as the “father of digital video.”

Thomas Kailath

The Lifetime award recognizes Professor Kailath for his “transformative” contributions to information and system science over six decades as well as his sustained mentoring and development of new generations of scientists, a press release from Marconi Society said. The award also acknowledges the wide range of Kailath’s contributions to information theory, communications, filtering theory, linear systems and control, signal processing, semiconductor manufacturing, probability and statistics, linear algebra, matrix and operator theory, which have directly or indirectly advanced modern communications technology.

Together with his students, Kailath co-founded four companies, two of which went public: Integrated Systems, Inc., founded in 1980 and now part of Intel, and in 1996, Numerical Technologies, Inc., acquired by Synopsis in 2003. Kailath and his students hold a dozen patents, and they have successfully transitioned some of the research into industry, the press release said.

He has mentored more than 100 doctoral and post-doctoral students over his career at Stanford, many of whom have gone on to be leaders in their field, Stanford said.

He has earned dozens of major awards and honors over his lifetime, including the 2012 National Medal of Science from President Obama “for transformative contributions to the fields of information and system science, for distinctive and sustained mentoring of young scholars, and for translation of scientific ideas into entrepreneurial ventures that have had a significant impact on industry”.

Kailath earned a Bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications Engineering from the College of Engineering in Pune, and came to MIT in 1957 with a research assistantship in the Information Theory Group. In January 1963, he became an associate professor at Stanford and a full professor in 1968.

Arun Netravali, recipient of the 2017 Marconi Prize from the Marconi Society for his contributions to digital video. (Photo: Marconi Society)

Arun Netravali

On June 15, Marconi Society announced the award for Netravali who is considered a leader of pioneering work on video compression standards that served as the key base technology for MPEG 1, 2 and 4 and enabled a wide range of video services including digital TV, HDTV, and streaming video, ushering in a digital video revolution. The technology is used in most TV sets and all mobile phones today, a press release from the Society said.

“Few things have had a greater impact on communications in recent years than the digital video revolution led by Arun,” Dr. Vint Cerf, chairman of the Marconi Society and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, is quoted saying in the press release. “Everywhere you look, video is transforming the way we communicate on mobile devices and how we consume entertainment and news. Movies, YouTube, live streaming–it is literally transforming how people interact. The next generation of video based on this technology, including virtual reality, promises to revolutionize video consumption, delivery and business models once again.”

He led Bell Labs (Lucent) at a time when it had 22,000 employees and a budget of $3.5 billion, launched 35 ventures, turned out an average of four patents per day, and developed leading edge products in wireless, optical and data communications at record speeds.

Netravali initially studied chemical engineering at Indian Institutes of Technology, but quickly realized it wasn’t his passion and switched to electrical engineering which he fell in love with.

When he arrived in the U.S. in 1967 hoping to attend Rice University as a graduate student, he was welcomed with a full scholarship and a host family that embraced him. In addition to tutoring the family’s children, he took a variety of odd jobs to help pay his way, and says the opportunity to interact with individuals from a wide variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds gave him a deep belief that America’s strength comes from its diversity, the press release says. By the time he earned his PhD in 1970, he was committed to making a positive impact on his adopted country.




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