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10 Indian innovators in MIT list

Vinson Kurian

Thiruvananthapuram , Oct. 3

THE latest issue of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Technology Review (TR100) for 2003 has named 10 young innovators of Indian origin.

The 100 innovators of 35 years or younger have been chosen based on the potential of the technologies they purvey and which are "poised to make a dramatic impact on our world", according to the MIT.

This is the third time Technology Review has identified 100 young innovators. Here are the fields of the 10 innovators:

Vipul Ved Prakash: Founder of the anti-spam company Cloudmark, Prakash has come up with a way for potentially millions of people to jointly decide which mass e-mails are junk. He first released his online voting mechanism, called Vipul's Razor, as open-source software that is free to use and that anyone can inspect and modify. Once the program gained a substantial following, he founded Cloudmark to produce a commercial version.

Sangeeta Bhatia: Engineered a liver from scratch, using photopatterning techniques borrowed from the microchip industry. A completely functional artificial liver requires different types of cells arranged in complex patterns. Human trials remain years away, but biotech firm Surface Logix is adapting her liver-cell work for drug research.

Nimmi Ramanujam: This biomedical engineer studies how light interacts with human tissue and the characteristic changes cancers introduce to those interactions. Her efforts have yielded a non-invasive test for cervical cancer that is already in human trials. She is now working on a breast cancer test that could be an aid to expensive and often inaccurate breast biopsies. Her goal is to develop methods that can identify cancer at its earliest stages with high accuracy.

Shuvo Roy: Co-founded a laboratory at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic Foundation devoted to clinical applications of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). His efforts have yielded several innovative devices and one patent — with seven others pending. Among his inventions is a wireless strain and pressure microsensor that can be inserted into vertebrae during spinal-fusion surgery (a main surgical option for back patients) to monitor bone fusion.

Additionally, Roy shrunk ultrasound imaging technology into a high-resolution transducer small enough to glide through arteries on a catheter; the device can spot arterial defects called vulnerable plaques, considered the leading cause of heart attacks.

Ram Samudrala: Produced algorithms that can predict the structure and function of every protein encoded by an organism's genome. By modelling changes to specific genes or proteins, researchers can try to determine what causes proteins to go awry. One set of algorithms he devised, with $4 million from federal and private agencies, is called Bioverse. Posted on the Web, Bioverse receives 1,000 hits daily. Samudrala made the algorithms free because he is opposed to intellectual-property restrictions.

Sanjay Parekh: His product, NetAcuity is used by eBay, AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, and others to determine a visitor's locality. It traces connections back through Internet switching stations to the network nodes where logons originate — almost always in a visitor's city or town. This is close enough to give users local weather forecasts, or the addresses of nearby electronics stores, without their having to enter any data. NetAcuity also enables Web sites to automatically tailor advertisements.

Reuben Singh: He has combined technology and capital to help other entrepreneurs. In 1999, he used $6 million of his own money to found alldayPA in Manchester, England. The company uses custom software that enables a team of live personal assistants to handle calls, manage calendars, type letters, and perform other tasks for business owners, whose customers need never know that the assistants are at a 650-seat around-the-clock call centre. AlldayPA now has a database of 94,000 registered customers, who save money by not having to hire employees.

Meantime, Singh's Golden Fund, a $24 million war chest for acquiring and turning around ailing information technology companies, has aided more than a dozen businesses. He is helping other entrepreneurs through Dream On Attitude, a venture capital fund that invests his and other people's cash in start-ups founded by innovators younger than 25.

Krishna Kumar: Heads a Tufts University research team that is engineering better proteins. Several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as venture capital firms, are evaluating his techniques for their potential to make drugs more effective. If they work, then the flood of new information about the proteins in the human body could soon yield better therapeutics.

Balaji Narasimhan: A chemical engineer, he is determined to help prevent common worldwide diseases such as tetanus and diphtheria. These illnesses currently require four to five injections to build up a subject's immunity, a fact that is particularly troublesome in populations with limited access to healthcare. An associate professor at Iowa State University, Narasimhan, is trying to achieve the same effects with a single dose, by encapsulating vaccines in specially tailored biodegradable polymers. He is also devising non-interactive polymers to deliver fragile proteins involved in cancer therapies. He expects both systems to be ready for human testing within five years.

Ravikanth Pappu: When a credit card company asked the MIT Media Lab to develop a technique to produce card identifiers that, unlike magnetic stripes, would be difficult to forge, Ravikanth Pappu, a graduate student, devised a cheap and simple solution. He embeds hundreds of glass beads into dime-size epoxy tokens. When a laser shines on a token, its beads scatter the light in a unique pattern that can be digitally stored as a fingerprint or "key." Retailers could use readers to check patterns against keys in a secure database.

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