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Eight New Englanders Receive Global Indus Technovator’s Award

Ranjani Saigal
12/03/2003

(This event review is sponsored by Vakili & Associates)

The Indian Business Club at MIT has established the Global Indus Innovators Award to recognize and felicitate innovators of Indus origin working at the cutting–edge of technology that may be harnessed for far-reaching applications. It is the only award that specifically recognizes South Asian innovators. The awards ceremony for 2003 was held at the Wong Auditorium on Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003. Dean Kamen, inventor, entrepreneur and the founder of DEKA R & D Corporation was the keynote speaker.

“The primary goal of this award is to promote engineering and entrepreneurship in South Asia,” said Manish Bajaj. “The worldwide call for nominations lasted for around 5 months during which we received around 150 Nominations from 15 countries. Around 50% of the nominations were from the US, 30% from India and the remaining 20% from countries like Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, France Germany, Italy, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and UAE. We were so pleased at the quality of the nominations received.

MIT students Jatin Mishra, Manoj Bajaj and Prem Pavoor were the three chief organizers of the event. It is the only award that is solely for South Asians. We have patterened it along the lines of the Technlogy Review awards. There are four areas that were targetted -

  • Biotech/Healthcare/Medicine
  • Information Technology
  • Development/Energy
  • NanoTechnology/Materials/Devices
The Development/Energy category focused on grassroots movements that help make creative use of technology in developing countries," said Prem Pavoor. "We have tried our best to reach out to the global South Asian community with these awards. Our dream is to make these awards one of the most sought-after honors for South Asian innovation. With this ambitious concept, getting the judges on board was the easiest part. Most of the eminent judges had the vision to foresee the importance and significance of these awards and were very prompt in accepting to be on the judging panel," said Mishra.

New Englanders Tejal Desai (Assoc Professor, Boston University), Ram Sasisekharan (Professor, MIT), Amar Sawhney(Co-founder, Confluent Surgical), Pawan Sinha (Asst Professor, MIT), Vanu Bose (CEO, Vanu Inc.), Zeeshan Syed(Oracle), Ramesh Raskar(Research Scientist, MERL) & Rahul Sarpeshkar (Assoc Professor, MIT) were part of the select group of twenty “Technovators” who received the award.

Dean Kamen, inventor, entrepreneur and a tireless advocate for technology gave the keynote address. In his talk he spoke about his inventions and the “FIRST” program that he founded nearly a decade ago. The FIRST program uses wholesale marketing and media techniques to motivate the next generation to want to learn about science and technology. “People say that we have a supply problem in education. To improve education we must get more books, more equipment. But I believe we have a demand problem. A culture problem. We pay $100 million dollars a year to Michael Jordan to bounce a ball. Kids can recognize him and stars from Hollywood. But they would have no idea as to who is working on AIDS research. “FIRST” was created to change this culture – to excite kids about technology,” said Kamen.

He spoke about an inspiring meeting he had with Nobel Laureate and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Perez. “He told me - Dean I used to think they should teach history to kids. But now I think they should completely stop teaching history and teach technology instead. One would think by learning history we learn from the mistakes made in the past. But I find that everyone teaches history with their own individual ideologies and hence each new generation duplicates the mistakes of the past. But technology is great. It is the same truth for everybody. It is technology that can change a desert into a garden. I want your program to come to the Middle-East where children – from different ideological backgrounds can cooperate and learn all about technology” said Kamen.

The awardees for the different categories were introduced by the students who served on the respective screening committees. Sandy Pentland, Toshiba Professor, MIT Media Laboratory gave the awards. The evening ended with a panel discussion moderated by Desh Deshpande, Chairman of Sycamore Networks. The awardees discussed potential impact of their innovations. “My work will make healthcare accessible to a whole lot of people“ said Zeeshan Syed who has built a system that can diagnose cardiac related ailments more accurately than doctors currently can using conventional auscultation. Only twenty-three, he is the youngest recipient of the award.

When asked to describe the creative process, during the question-answer session, each winner had his own take on it. “You dream it and then transition to practically accomplishing that dream. You need conviction, passion and perspiration to accomplish anything” said Ram Sasisekharan whose pioneer work in sugar-sequencing could significantly impact the multi-billion dollar heparin based therapeutics industry. Does politics affect your work? “Research is expensive. Government funds a lot of the research. Based on the politics of the day the funds get allocated for different kinds of research. Thus one can say politics does guide the research by giving it a certain slant” said Islamshah Amlani, whose research in Nanotechnology has opened up new avenues for exploration in the area of transistor-less computing.

“We as South Asians are trying to establish our identity in America. It gives me great sense of pride to sit on a panel alongside other South Asians who have done so much to create an impact in the world of technology” said Ramesh Raskar who won this award for his work on creating intelligent projector-based displays.

Prof. Sundar Manoharan, a faculty at the Indian Insititute of Technology, Kanpur who won the award for his work on developing new materials said “I was very inspired by Dean Kamen’s speech. The greatest pleasure for me was to note that I was sitting next to someone of Pakistani origin. I would like to echo Shimon Perez’s sentiment and hope I get an opportunity of working together with Pakistani scientists on some projects. This would help further understanding and avoid conflict since technology is a universal truth.”

To learn more about the awards please check the website at http://technovators.mit.edu



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Winners


Dean Kamen


Vanu Bose


Ramesh Raskar


Zeeshan Syed


Ram Sasisekharan


Pawan Sinha


Rahul Sarpeshkar


Sundar Manoharan


Islamshah Amlani


Rashid Bashir


Jatin Mishra - Organizer


Manoj Bajaj - Organizer


Prem Pavoor - Organizer


Desh Deshpande




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