Doubling Wireless Bandwidth: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

By Negar Reiskarimian and Paula Reinman

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes … because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.”

— Steve Jobs

The Marconi Society stands for creativity, vision and change that benefits humankind.  Marconi Fellows have pioneered the Internet, wireless communications, security, GPS and other technologies that make today’s connected world possible.

The Marconi Society Young Scholars (nominations are open now!) show the potential to develop the next generation of ground-breaking discoveries.

So when 2017 Young Scholar Negar Reiskarimian decided what to focus on, she was not satisfied with developing integrated circuits that performed incrementally better. She wanted to find a fundamentally different way to design new circuits to power upcoming 5G and IoT applications.

Direction From the Intersection

As tomorrow’s applications diverge – from uses that will require more data and lower latency to support technologies such as the next generation of wireless communication systems (5G), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to Internet of Things (IoT) applications demanding lower power, smaller sizes and flexibility to tag everything – design ideas can come from many places across the scientific and engineering spectrum.  Negar’s research focuses on the intersection of fundamental physics, applied electromagnetics and nanoelectronics to design new integrated circuits (ICs) for these applications.

One key concept in overcoming current network design constraints is to create “full duplex” communications, enabling transmitters and receivers to function at the same time on the same frequency band. Full duplex capability doubles the capacity on existing networks and opens the door for 5G applications (click here for more information about full duplex and the ICs being developed at Columbia’s CoSMIC Lab).

Most of the prior full duplex demonstrations either used antenna pairs or nonreciprocal magnetic circulators to route the transmit and receive signals, which exist concurrently at the same frequency band. This is not the most efficient approach in terms of the area and cost of the overall system.

Negar’s challenge was to achieve non-reciprocal behavior without magnets.  She investigated prior approaches using modulation of material properties.  However these attempts could not meet the stringent requirements of full-duplex systems.

Combining her skills in IC design with her knowledge of the prior art, Negar created a different approach and a new modulation scheme based on switching transistors that is on a much smaller scale than anything that has been done before.  The intersection of this newly developed concept and CMOS platform produced a totally new type of design.

Beyond Doubling Capacity

While much of the initial interest around this innovation stems from its ability to double wireless network capacity, Negar believes that there are more fundamental and far-reaching applications for her work.

There are a number of government-funded programs to investigate and enhance the performance of nonreciprocal devices. DARPA’s SPAR (Signal Processing at Radio Frequency) program includes various groups working on nonreciprocal devices and circulators designed for high-performance wireless communication systems.  Negar and her team at CoSMIC Lab also have funding from the NSF to continue creating compact and low cost nonreciprocal devices that will support tomorrow’s applications.

Many of applications that seem to be right on the horizon will benefit from breaking reciprocity in a light, inexpensive and scalable way.  Most optical and electrical systems require nonreciprocal devices for protection against reflections. Self-driving cars need nonreciprocal devices in their radar systems to see objects and sense where they are on the road.

At a broader level, there is more that can be done with spatial and temporal modulation schemes beyond achieving nonreciprocity.  Since it is difficult to analyze and build these time varying systems, this work is just the beginning of endless opportunities.

New Rules for Building Game-Changing Technology

Solving the complex problems that will enable the next generation of connected communications and applications is an interdisciplinary sport.  Researchers need to look at how expertise in different fields and connecting ideas from these domains will result in new approaches to solve these problems. Scientists and engineers need to understand enough about the work and language of adjacent spaces to identify the promise of relevant ideas from other disciplines.

As basic scientific research continues to power consumer and business experiences, we will see more recognition of this research.  The 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 List included two Marconi Society Young Scholars, Negar Reiskarimian and Dinesh Bharadia, who are creating big impact through fundamental research.

We hope to see more of this kind of innovation in the 2018 Young Scholar nominees.  Please click here for more information on nominating a deserving young innovator.

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.