Six Ways Bright Young Researchers Will Make Your Life Better

By Paula Reinman

Each year, the Marconi Society is honored to present the Paul Baran Young Scholar award to a small number of promising young researchers who exhibit the exceptional intellectual, creative and entrepreneurial capabilities needed to advance the Internet and communications.

We are always amazed by the quality of the nominations we receive and the nominees for the 2017 awards continue to set an extraordinary standard.  Thanks to the many leading universities and professional associations who helped us get the word out about this opportunity, we were able to consider an incredibly diverse and accomplished set of researchers. Our nominees came from ten countries and four continents. One-third of them were women. Virtually all of them were award-worthy, and narrowing the field was challenging.

Our nominees give us a bird’s eye view into the issues that the best researchers in the world are addressing right now. Some of these issues are on-going and some are new – all are intriguing and consistent with Guglielmo Marconi’s vision of supporting scientific achievements in communications and the Internet that significantly benefit mankind.

Here are six areas that young researchers are focused on to make our lives better:

Building the Wide New World of Wireless

There are nearly as many cell phone subscribers as there are people in the world, and even in landline strongholds like the US, there are now more cell phones than land line phones. This demand and the growing capacity and capability of wireless networks are driving high levels of interest in all things wireless among Young Scholar nominees.

Whether by enabling new wireless applications by breaking Lorentz Reciprocity and removing its limitations, developing ways to better use existing spectrum or creating the metrics and models that show that 5G will work everywhere, young researchers are creating the wireless world that consumers demand.

Delivering on the Internet of Everything Promise

We’ve all heard the numbers before: By 2020, we expect billions of devices to be connected to the network. While it’s predictable that there is plenty of Internet of Things action by young researchers, there are specific areas that pop out.

“Location, location, location” is the mantra in real estate, but it could also be the IoT chant. We expect accurate locations for all people and things in all places, from finding a restaurant to locating a buddy on the battlefield. Young researchers are working to improve efficiency, accuracy and ubiquity of wireless location detection systems.

Others are focused on the IoT infrastructure, including improvements in resource allocation and scheduling algorithms in wireless networks.

And still others are addressing critical security issues that Internet pioneers, including Vint Cerf and Leonard Kleinrock, are consumed with today.

Redefining the Laws of Physics

In 2013, Young Scholar Salvatore Campione was honored for his work in changing the basic physical properties of materials to support new applications in areas ranging from medical diagnostics to solar cells. As he continues this work, we see more young researchers changing the very nature of materials to enable different applications or to overcome fundamental limitations.

This year’s nominees continue this trend through innovative work to use the unique properties of metamaterials in order to manipulate and sculpt electromagnetic fields and design novel devices to support different applications. Some are developing new methods for wave shaping that can be used in many applications from glasses to microscopes to imaging devices in healthcare and optical data communications.

Expanding the limits of learning

By identifying and pushing the boundaries on data processing, young researchers are developing ways to improve deep learning.

These innovations underpin improvements in areas like natural language processing, enabling sophisticated applications to work in low bandwidth environments with simple devices.

Satisfying Our Insatiable Appetite for Bandwidth and Speed

Whether you’re trying to stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones or run a network for any size of business, bandwidth is a universal pain point.

A number of young researchers are working on continued advances in data signal processing (DSP) to meet our infinite demand for bandwidth, including improving the flexibility, speed and reach of access networks and developing fiber optic parametric amplifiers for applications in ultra-high capacity communications systems. Other approaches include addressing the upcoming bandwidth crunch by creating ways to scale information capacity without relying on DSP.

Extending the Infrastructure

Continuing a trend from last year and likely extending into the foreseeable future, there is a focus on augmenting and extending the existing core, long haul, metro and access networks to support the ongoing onslaught of devices and applications.

Techniques to ensure backward compatibility with legacy networks continue to be a hot topic as all network providers look to extend their capital investments.

Other researchers are focused on the optical networks of the future, including new optical plane architectures that allow flexible, low latency and scalable next generation all optical intra data center networks and high performance computing interconnection.

We look forward to honoring the 2017 Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholars and cannot wait to see what next year’s nominations bring.

How to Create Tomorrow’s Leaders: Educate Locally to Enrich Globally

By Paula Reinman
Coauthored by Himanshu Asnani

Can you take two seemingly unrelated problems with our current education model and create a new learning approach to address both of them while inspiring society’s next generation of leaders? That should not be too difficult! It’s a challenge happily taken on by Himanshu Asnani, 2015 Marconi Society Young Scholar, Visiting Assistant Professor at IIT Bombay and Co-Founder of social enterprises Shikhya and The Young Socratics.

The two problems that Himanshu is tackling are how to create passion for science and technology among middle and high school students and ways we can provide compelling education options to students in rural areas of developing countries. These statistics highlight the issues he is solving:

  • We are failing to inspire young scientists to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in college to fill the many STEM positions that our economy will require. Between 2014 and 2024, the number of STEM jobs in the US will grow 17 percent, as compared with 12 percent for non-STEM jobs. ( Yet nearly 60 percent of the nation’s students who begin high school interested in STEM change their minds by graduation (US News and World Report)
  • At the same time, 4.4B people around the world still do not have the luxury of Internet access and consistently available electricity and, therefore, have no access to education and opportunity to create jobs and value for their communities (Shikhya).

While problems in STEM education and reaching students in the last mile seem like they would be different, Himanshu maintains that a common approach can solve them both. For example, this approach has delivered an 18% improvement in math scores in the small town of Baramunda, India.

It’s About Content and Context

In his work as a scientist and mathematician, as well as a meditation and philosophy instructor, Asnani has met many people who are successful in their lives, yet feel something is missing. The missing piece is often passion and sense of purpose about the way they are spending their time.

This is frequently due to the way they were educated. “Education is usually about information – learning this, retrieving that – whereas inspiration tackles how people can use their intellectual capabilities to be visionary in the way they serve their communities and support others,” says Asnani.

While working in the corporate world, Asnani was constantly drawn back to academia.  Though he loves teaching university students, he says, “I had to do something about STEM education from middle school to high school. That’s where we’re failing. People drop out of sciences at the university level. Their parents may make them take these courses in middle and high school, but they aren’t taught in a way that gives them the passion to pursue science studies or a sense of purpose for the greater good.”

A large part of the problem is that science curriculum is presented in a siloed manner, rather than as the holistic, interconnected reality that it is. This insight about how content and curriculum are presented is also critical in Asnani’s approach to educating students in rural areas of developing countries.

While infrastructure poses a separate challenge in these countries, content is typically available only in English and in a context that is irrelevant for these learners. Asnani applies the same insights for creating compelling content to both situations through two social enterprises designed to educate students locally so they that can enrich the world globally.

The Young Socratics

The Young Socratics uses two strategies to create passion and inspiration for science education. The first is to present the curriculum as a whole. Rather than compartmentalizing subjects such as physics, math and chemistry, the curriculum teaches them in an interconnected way. For instance, understanding how vision works requires integrating optics with geometry and biology.

The second strategy is to foster creativity by empowering students to walk in the footsteps of giants. This involves helping students understand the choices and information that was in front of leading scientists like Aristotle, Galileo and others so that they can experience that historical narrative and take the journey that these innovators took. While the decisions they make may or may not be correct, they experience the process of making the journey.

These approaches come together through experiences like Odyssey, an immersive next-generation science game featuring a young girl who is stranded on a desert island. She writes a journal about what she sees and discovers, allowing players to combine physics, astronomy and other subjects in their learning. While it is early in the game’s lifecycle, initial reviews by parents and teachers in forums such as STEAM are extremely favorable.


As if one startup was not enough, Asnani also co-founded Shikya to bring education to non English-speaking people in developing countries that do not have Internet access or constant electricity. Overcoming limitations in both infrastructure and content, Shikhya now has 32 centers, each serving 35-40 students with battery-powered tablets. Featuring local language curriculum, the math program in Odiya (a language spoken by 44M people in India) alone includes 60,000 interactive practice exercises and 3,000 bite-sized videos. Content is also contextual, meaning that it is in the learners’ language and features people, stories and geographical references that are relevant to the region. Curriculum borrows from the integrated approach developed by the Young Socratics.

Shikhya fosters inspiration as social transformation, providing the education that lets people generate opportunity for themselves and others in their towns. “The best way to change society is through education because education changes hearts,” says Asnani. “Government is slow and bureaucratic. If organizations like Shikhya can scale up, we can bring education to the last mile. When you educate a local population, you inspire local businesses run by the people who understand the local culture. People can bloom wherever they live.”

By creating a world where people can learn in their towns, rather than heading to educational centers to become software engineers, Shikhya and organizations like it can lift up entire villages and the people who live in them. Shikhya is changing lives for students like Sunil Sahoo, a ninth grader who lost his father and now helps his mother and serves as a role model for two younger brothers. With Shikhya’s help, Sunil has now mastered 131 math skills, is an inspiration to his peers and is building skills to succeed in higher education.

“My goal is to make the work that helped me earn the Marconi Society Young Scholar award accessible to younger students to inspire them to take those ideas further. Topics like genomics are so prevalent and we need high school and middle school kids to get excited about those ideas now,” said Asnani.

Marconi Society Names Four 2017 Paul Baran Young Scholars

Cutting edge researchers drive significant advances in machine learning, wireless communications, and network localization and navigation

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA, September 12, 2017 – The Marconi Society, dedicated to furthering scientific achievements in communications and the Internet, has named four 2017 Paul Baran Young Scholars, honoring them for their outstanding research and academic performance. The four will receive their awards at the Society’s annual awards ceremony in Summit, NJ on October 3, 2017.


Wenhan Dai 2017 Marconi Young ScholarWenhan Dai, a Chinese native who is a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was selected for his work on network localization and navigation (NLN). Dai’s research enables services that touch the lives of many people each day through applications ranging from conveniences like finding an open restaurant nearby to mission-critical search and rescue operations. By solving a challenging problem in localization and navigation – how to prioritize different nodes and measurement links for maximum resource efficiency – Dai’s innovations significantly improve localization and navigation performance, doubling the network lifetime.

“In fact, Wenhan has gone beyond theory by implementing his solution in a real system, and he has demonstrated that node prioritization can significantly improve the efficiency of a localization network,” says Dr. Santiago Mazuelas of Qualcomm Technologies.


Negar ReiskarimianNegar Reiskarimian, an Iranian native who is a fourth-year PhD student at Columbia University, was selected for her work on non-reciprocal microwave components for new wireless communication paradigms. Her research has focused on the fundamental physical principles and the engineering applications of breaking Lorentz Reciprocity, which allows signals to be routed in new ways, enabling new wireless communication applications. Her advisor, Associate Professor Harish Krishnaswamy, calls it “the highest-impact research that I have had the privilege of participating in throughout my career.” The work has garnered nearly $4.5M of research funding from NSF, DARPA and through industrial funding from Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

A paper on the physical principles behind Reiskarimian’s work was published in Nature Communications, and a full-duplex receiver using her circulator was reported on at IEEE ISSCC 2016 followed by publication in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits.


2017 Young Scholar Shu SunNYU PhD candidate Shu Sun, also a native of China, was selected for research that focuses on making the case for the viability of 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) communications as the next generation of high capacity wireless communications promising broadband access to people around the world, regardless of location. She was the lead student author of the 2013 seminal paper in the field, based on an analysis of NYU’s massive data sets, called “Millimeter Wave for 5G Cellular: It Will Work.” Sun has also led the 3GPP global standards body to adopt her optional close-in free space model, and developed the world’s first open source channel modeling software, NYUSIM, which accurately recreates difficult-to-take field measurements on a computer and is relied upon by over 8,000 engineers worldwide to understand radio propagation.

“The ability to influence and change the minds of others who are ‘set in their ways’ or bound to legacy thinking is the hallmark of an entrepreneur. Shu Sun has demonstrated her ability to change minds and lead the world to completely new approaches that were once thought impossible or untenable,” said Theodore Rappaport, NYU WIRELESS Founding Director and David Lee / Ernst Weber Professor at NYU, as well as Sun’s PhD advisor and nominator for the award. “Were it not for her intellect and tenacity to attend conferences, work with industry leaders, and continually urge consideration for what she knew and that others had not yet come to accept, we probably would not now be talking about 5G millimeter wave wireless communications.”


2017 Young Scholar Ananda Theertha SureshIndian native Ananda Theertha Suresh, a Google research scientist, was selected for his research focusing on understanding efficient ways to use information, data and communication. As the first in his family to attend college, Suresh’s goal is to deeply understand the fundamental limits of what is possible in data science so that he can develop a set of tools that will make an impact on people who have access to only limited resources.

While a PhD candidate at UC San Diego, he demonstrated why Good-Turing frequency estimation works well and developed improvements to the technique, creating an estimator that works across fields ranging from genetics to ecology to language modeling. At Google Research, his work helps provide sophisticated communications capabilities and applications to people with low bandwidth Internet connections and low-end devices.

According to Dr. Michael D. Riley, Principal Research Scientist and Manager at Google Research, “Ananda’s research has already led to algorithms that give better compression for a given decompression time budget than we have previously used and this work is now used by millions of people within speech and keyboard input applications in Google products.”


Young Scholar candidates are nominated by their academic advisors. Winners are selected by an international panel comprised of engineers from leading universities and companies, and receive a $4000 prize plus expenses to attend the annual awards event. This year’s Young Scholars will be honored at the same event where former Bell Labs chief Arun Netravali, regarded as the “father of digital video,” will receive the $100,000 Marconi Prize, and Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Media Contact:

Hatti Hamlin

About the Marconi Society

Established in 1974 by the daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel Laureate who invented radio, the Marconi Society promotes awareness of key technology and policy issues in telecommunications and the Internet, and recognizes significant individual achievements through the Marconi Prize and Young Scholar Awards. More information may be found at www.marconisociety.orgSubscribe. Follow: Twitter and Facebook


5G For All: Busting Myths With Measurement

By Paula Reinman

Co-authored by George MacCartney, Jr.

Are you waiting impatiently to get that amazing virtual reality experience in your living room, or chomping at the bit to have high-speed internet at your rural farm, or planning to stream 4K TV on the go? What you probably don’t know is that these exciting new applications begin on sweltering rooftops in New York City and the rural hills of Riner, Virginia, where people like George R. MacCartney, Jr, 2016 Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar, investigate how millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies will work in these environments to ensure that 5G wireless delivers on its promise for an enormous increase in bandwidth and data rates.

Let’s start with a bit of history. Just over a year ago, the FCC voted unanimously to make new portions of radio spectrum available for 5G wireless services. This made the US the first country to set aside more than 28 GHz of spectrum for 5G wireless communications and networks and triggered a global race by companies and countries to be “the first” to deliver 5G to their customers. Around the same time, the Marconi Society announced the 2016 Paul Baran Young Scholars, including George R. MacCartney, Jr., a PhD student at NYU specializing in mmWave propagation measurements and models showing that mmWave can work in various environments and scenarios. MacCartney and his groundbreaking work with NYU WIRELESS are helping to bring 5G closer to reality each day.

While media and communications companies tout 5G as a panacea for bandwidth-hungry applications such as streaming, artificial reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), it can also be the game changer that eliminates the rural broadband gap in the US for 23.4 million Americans who live outside urban areas and who are currently denied the educational and economic opportunities of having readily available broadband.

With such big aspirations riding on a still-developing technology, it’s helpful to understand the current state of 5G and how MacCartney sees the evolution.

What’s the Problem?

The beauty of 5G and mmWave bands is that they offer huge amounts of wireless bandwidth, making them an open playground for applications and business models accessible through a wireless network. This is what makes it a potential delivery mechanism for people who are currently off the grid in both developed and emerging countries, where digging fiber lines and building extensive infrastructure is not an easy or affordable option. The massive bandwidths at mmWave also provide wireless backhaul options from remote stations.

Ultra-high frequencies behave differently than lower microwave frequencies used in our current wireless networks. As frequency increases, wavelength decreases and the resulting signal strength is much weaker in the first meter of propagation compared to traditional cellular bands. This fact has led to the myth that mmWave frequencies are not viable for long-range wireless compared to traditional cellular bands. However, aside from the additional loss in the first meter of propagation, mmWave signals attenuate as a function of distance in a very similar manner to cellular frequencies. Additionally, for transmit and receive antennas that remain the same physical size as frequency is scaled up, the gain of each antenna increases by the square of the increase in frequency such that the path loss in free space in the first meter reduces by the square of the increase in frequency. This means that if you can build highly directional antennas, then mmWave can result in stronger signals than today’s omnidirectional cellular.

Measurements by MacCartney and his colleagues at NYU WIRELESS have helped to dispel the myth and have shown that even with low transmit power (less than one watt) and using high-gain directional antennas, mmWave wireless links can be made at distances as far as 200 meters in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) or obstructed conditions in urban microcell (UMi) environments like Manhattan and Brooklyn, and out to distances of more than 10 km in rural areas. Many in academia and industry believe that the additional loss in the first meter can be easily overcome, even in inclement weather, by using high-gain electrically-steerable phased array antennas – especially since many antenna elements can be packed into a small-form factor when operating at mmWave frequencies. The 200 m range in urban environments is also quite conservative given the lower transmit power and the fact that antenna combining and signal processing techniques will be used in future systems to increase range and link margin.

There are still issues to overcome in terms of blockage at mmWave frequencies, due to pedestrians, cars, and buses, that cause rapid degradation in signal strength . MacCartney has also worked on developing models for characterizing blockage events and will present his recent findings at GLOBECOM 2017. Additionally, MacCartney’s recent work has focused on the use of multiple base stations in an urban small-cell scenario to study how base station diversity can be used to mitigate blockage events and to avoid outages via rapid re-routing, handoff applications, and sectored beam-switching.

Why Do Measurements Matter?

One of MacCartney’s unique contributions to developing 5G is taking real-world measurements with a system called a channel sounder. A lot of researchers don’t take real-world measurements when developing models or systems – they rely on software simulations, which are purely theoretical or calibrated from a few measurements at mmWave or from traditional cellular bands. This is problematic because we do not yet know how mmWave frequencies will interact in dense urban or even rural environments. Simulations are not always realistic, but real-world experiments give insights into the true nature of these frequencies and reveal observations that one might not expect, such as the strong reflective nature of mmWaves off of buildings and their interactions with metallic lamp posts and street signs.

Propagation measurements are difficult and time-consuming but have great merit. “I am passionate about looking at measurements as an asset, rather than as something that is too difficult to do,” says MacCartney. “You don’t understand the channel and the environment until you have measured it yourself.”

First-hand measurements are done mainly in Europe and Asia and much less frequently in the US, mainly because the US funds much less communications research than Europe and Asia do. One of the assets of NYU WIRELESS, however, is the strong support from their 18 Industrial Affiliates and the tireless efforts of professors to generate support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Furthermore, taking measurements can be difficult: they are done outside, sometimes in extreme heat or cold. They can take a long time – researchers have to take measurements over many weeks to months and in a plethora of environments and scenarios to collect terabytes of data. Since high-gain narrowbeam antennas are needed for mmWave measurements, many systems implement mechanically steerable horn antennas at the transmitter and receiver, where snapshots of the channel must be taken over a multitude of antenna pointing combinations. This can take considerable time and effort for individual transmitter and receiver combinations. Phased-array technologies are not particularly mature yet at mmWave frequencies for accurate and simple measurements. However, technology and systems are improving, including a promising channel sounder system from AT&T, yet such systems are extremely expensive, difficult to calibrate, and can take years to perfect.

How will 5G Show Up for Users?

Given the media hype around 5G, it is sometimes difficult to remember that we are very early in the technology’s lifecycle. While some carriers claim to be offering the first 5G connections, these are really advancements of the LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network in the quest to improve capacity and speed. For initial 5G deployments at mmWave, we should expect to first see fixed wireless access as a fiber replacement for ultra-broadband connectivity to the home. For 5G mobile access at mmWave, it is likely that we will first see a rollout of connectivity to tablets or devices larger than a mobile phone, similar to the initial rollout of 4G which included mobile hotspots and dongles.

The Olympics traditionally showcase new mobile and wireless technologies. Anticipate seeing 5G and mmWave on display at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and then even more visibly at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Perhaps mmWave and 5G technologies will be useful for solving connectivity issues like those experienced at a recent Pokemon Go event in Chicago where a densely populated crowd of participants experienced outage and performance issues on most wireless carriers.

Initial applications on the business side will likely increase productivity and make sophisticated services more accessible. Some of the most promising applications include:

  • Healthcare using ultra-reliable and high speed 5G networks for telemedicine, supporting breakthroughs such as remote surgery via robotics
  • Machine to machine (M2M) communications for manufacturing, an environment where machines need very low latency wireless networks to perform their tasks and cannot tolerate any break in coverage
  • High-density environments with extreme traffic that support high-bandwidth applications, such as omni-view, 360 video, and hologram live applications, such as those predicted for Olympic viewers to experience events live while not necessarily physically at the event.

It is likely that initial consumer applications will focus on AR and VR gaming and entertainment experiences.

Just like the Internet, no one knows what the killer applications and business models will be for 5G. In major social impact areas, such as providing broadband coverage for everyone, technology is the easiest thing to solve. Business models and regulation – not technology – will be the gating factors in making broadband truly available for consumers around the world.

“I wanted to work on wireless because it’s still the relatively early days compared to other technological revolutions that have been around for many decades and even centuries, and I believe we are due for an impactful evolution of wireless. Being selected as a Paul Baran Young Scholar has helped me in my work by allowing me to meet and network with other bright and talented Young Scholars and to learn about them, their research, and their passions. It has also given me the opportunity to meet and interact with pioneers and distinguished scholars and engineers in the field of communications, networks, and the Internet,” says MacCartney.

Despite the current vagaries of business models and regulation, we can rest assured that the technology will eventually work based on measurements that are taken by intrepid researchers like MacCartney.