Yihong Wu, an exceptional researcher who is about to receive his PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton University, is one of three students worldwide to be honored by the prestigious Marconi Society. He was selected a Marconi Young Scholar for work including his focus on how to maximize compressed sensing by minimizing noise and waste in transmissions.
As the leading organization devoted to recognizing and encouraging scientific contributions to communication sciences and the Internet, the Marconi Society annually honors young scholars who already are engaged in influential work and are likely to transform their fields in some significant way. All three of this year’s Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award recipients are completing their doctorates while 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 aims to make 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.
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 compression rate that compressors can possibly achieve.
One real-world application would be to improve the MRI medical scans, used by doctors to obtain visual images of, for example, brain activity. The procedure requires a patient to remain still and encased in a huge cylinder for many minutes while the images are captured – a difficult and even potentially scary ordeal for children and patients with claustrophobia. Wu’s research could reduce the number of measurements required and expedite the whole process by using more sophisticated techniques to recover the original signal image from these few measurements.
As a teenager, Wu won first prize in the Chinese Olympiad Physics Competition in 2001. After attaining his bachelor’s in electrical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he 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.”
Wu also is an avid jogger, making frequent use of Princeton’s riverside and wooded trails. In the fall, he will join the University of Pennsylvania for postdoctoral work in Penn’s statistics department.
The Marconi Young Scholar Awards are named 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. 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." As Marconi Society Chairman Emeritus Robert Lucky noted, the scholars 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.”
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.