Press Release

Palo Alto, CA, August 2, 2011

Marconi Society Selects 2011 Young Scholar Award Winners

Three top researchers honored for work in the communications science and the Internet

The Marconi Society, the world’s leading organization devoted to honoring and encouraging scientific contributions in the field of communications science and the Internet, has selected three scientists to receive its 2011 Young Scholar Awards. Each of these scholars, who are just completing their PhDs, already are making vital contributions to the world’s “need for speed” – our increasing imperative to be able to send and receive data as quickly and economically as possible.

Though intricate and often theoretical, their research is aimed at making communications faster and more efficient, giving people everyday benefits -- from better video-on-demand service to improved MRI scans that yield medical images in a quicker and thus more comfortable way.

This year’s Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award recipients are Joseph Kakande, a Ugandan native now specializing in optical fiber research at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton; Bill Ping Piu Kuo, who moved from Hong Kong to the University of California, San Diego to complete his doctorate in photonics; and Yihong Wu, whose doctoral work at Princeton University has focused on how to maximize compressed sensing by minimizing noise and waste in transmissions.

The scholar awards have been renamed this year in honor of Baran, a Marconi Fellow famous for helping devise the technical inner-workings of the Arpanet, the government-sponsored precursor to the Internet. In the early 1960s, he significantly developed the concept of “packet switching” – the notion that data could be packaged into bundles, dispatched along network channels and then reassembled at their final destination. AT&T was among the many who initially dismissed it as unworkable, but the idea led to Arpanet and, ultimately, the Internet. Nonetheless, Baran always declined to be called the inventor of the Internet, instead likening it to a vast cathedral built by countless people continually adding their own stones to reshape its image.

This marks the fourth year that Young Scholars Awards have been granted by the Marconi Society, which is best known for its annual $100,000 Marconi Award and Fellowship given to living scientists whose scope of work and influence emulate the principle of “creativity in service to humanity." The scholars program was launched with a generous donation from 2007 Marconi Fellow Ronald L. Rivest, an MIT professor who co-founded RSA encryption, the major encryption system used worldwide to make Internet transactions secure.

In selecting its scholar recipients, the Marconi Society looks for those who not only have shown extraordinary early promise, but whose research already has been published and made an impact. As Marconi Society Chairman Emeritus Robert Lucky noted, “The selection committee looks for candidates who show the potential to win the Marconi Prize -- the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in communications science -- at some point in the future. As a point of reference, Marconi Fellows have been at the forefront of every modern advance in telecommunications and the Internet.”

Kakande’s work has focused on all-optical signal process, to counter the threat that the exponential growth in the demand for high-capacity optical communications could otherwise be thwarted by the speed and power bottlenecks currently experienced in optical-to-electrical-to-optical conversion. “Electronics is really great for processing,” he noted, “but it can only work so fast.” He aims to develop novel techniques for processing high spectral efficiency phase encoded optical signals at ultra-high baud rates, using nonlinear fiber optic technologies. In essence, that means using light to control optical signals on ultra-fast time scales.

Named Best Student at National Level in Uganda, where he was a student at St. Mary’s College Kisubi, Kakande attained first class honors in electronic engineering from the University of Hull, and is to receive his PhD in optoelectronic engineering from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

He has a particular interest in exploring how optical communications – which recently have revolutionized technology in the developed world – can be deployed in the Third World to empower its most deprived people. As Kakande’s university co-supervisor, Optoelectronics Research Centre Deputy Director David Richardson noted, “I think he’s got all the capabilities to become a real research superstar.”

Kuo’s optical signal processing research also is fueled by the problem of ever-increasing stress on the capacity of transmission systems. He has concentrated on developing wideband optical parametric mixers and ultra-fast transmission schemes to send and receive signals of unprecedented speed and quality – and with record low power consumption. “I would like to try to commercialize the technology,” said Kuo, who plans to do so in conjunction with UCSD.

Having been first in his class while earning a bachelor’s degree in electronic and communications engineering and then a master of philosophy in electronic engineering from the University of Hong Kong, he is to receive his doctorate of philosophy in electrical engineering from UCSD.

His supervisor there, Photonics System Laboratory Director Stojan Radic, observed that Kuo has contributed to more than 30 peer-reviewed publications, including prestigious post-deadline and invited papers at events such as the Optical Fiber Communications Conference. “It is safe to say that he does not have a peer in this field at his present age,” said Radic.

Wu’s research is best described as interdisciplinary: with its center of gravity in information theory, it entwines strands from signal processing, statistics, optimization and stochastic control. It’s intended to further the practical goal of improving the efficiency of signal acquisition and processing via compressed sensing. “The current data acquisition methods are actually extremely wasteful,” he explained, noting for example that a camera acquires massive amounts of data through its sensors, but keeps only the significant data and simply throws the rest away. His work aims to identify the fundamental limits of modern data acquisition, processing and communication, revealing the best parameters that compressors can possibly achieve.

After attaining his bachelor’s in electrical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, Wu earned a master’s in that field at Princeton and is on track to achieve his doctorate as well, having garnered Princeton’s Wallace Memorial honorific fellowship, the highest award in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I always say I teach and do research because I like to learn,” said Wu’s Princeton advisor, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering Sergio Verdu. “Yihong is one of those graduate students who you learn more from him than he actually learns from you, and that’s just fantastic.”

The Young Scholar Awards include a financial stipend and an invitation and travel funds to attend the annual Marconi Award Dinner, to be held in September in San Diego.

Hatti Hamlin