MIT Technology Review has published its annual list of its top 35 “Innovators Under 35” years of age. “Over the years, we’ve had success in choosing young innovators whose work has been profoundly influential on the direction of human affairs,” said MIT technology Review editor and publisher Jason Pontin. Previous winners have included Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Apple Inc. chief designer Jonathan Ive, Pontin pointed out. Manu Prakash, an Indian American assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, is on the list. “He’s producing instruments that enable people to undertake scientific explorations on the cheap,” the MIT journal said. “Many of Prakash’s inventions have a surreal quality. Consider his $5 micro-fluidic chemistry lab. At a holiday gift exchange, his wife received a hand-cranked music box that used a piano-roll-style punch tape to sound notes. “Prakash recognized the mechanism’s potential to combine chemical reagents according to a program (the punch tape), without electricity (thanks to the hand crank), at a fraction of the usual cost. He now makes the tiny labs from scratch.” Prakash also designed the Foldoscope, a “research-grade microscope made of plastic-impregnated paper,” that costs about $0.55; and OScan, a 3D-printed smartphone add-on to diagnose oral carcinomas. Born in Meerut, Prakash, 34, has a B. Tech. in computer science and engineering from IIT-Kanpur. He has done fieldwork in Uganda, Ghana and other developing countries. Also on the list is Tanuja Ganu, 31, a technical staff member at IBM’s India Research Laboratory. “Using the small box plugged in between a wall socket and an appliance,” the journal said, “Ganu can tell you when the electric grid in India is likely to shut down. Sensors inside the device, called nPlug, detect the voltage and frequency of the incoming electricity; analyzing that data over time, the box can determine the periods of maximum power demand on the grid and predict when the need for power will exceed the supply.”
Ganu, who joined IBM Research in Bangalore in 2011, is also developing SocketWatch, an autonomous appliance monitoring system to detect electricity wastage and appliance malfunctioning. Also named on the list is Shyam Gollakota, assistant professor of computer science and engineering and head of the Networks and Wireless Group at the University of Washington. The Indian American is an “expert on wireless technology” and “figures out how to power devices without batteries,” MIT said. “Gollakota’s prototypes use the fog of radio noise that surrounds us from TV stations, cell towers, and other sources as an energy supply and a means of communicating. By absorbing and reflecting those ambient signals, the devices can send messages to one another and even link to the Internet.” “Gollakota believes that eventually his energy-scavenging designs will make it possible for ambient radio waves to power stripped-down devices,” the MIT journal said, pointing out that many poor countries lack reliable electricity sources, but have strong cellular coverage. The 28-year-old assistant professor at the University of Washington has M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from MIT and a B. Tech. from IIT-Madras. Rumi Chunara, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard, made the list. Chunara “is mining social media and other online sources for information outside of medical settings,” MIT said. In one study, she discovered that a rise in cholera-related Twitter posts in Haiti correlated with an outbreak of the disease. “That’s important,” she told MIT Review, “because it takes the ministry of health in Haiti a couple of weeks to get their data aggregated.” In future outbreaks, tweets could help direct medical workers more quickly and make sure that supplies like water purification tablets get where they are needed. To get deeper than what might be normally found through social media, Chunara offered two-cent rewards to those in India who completed a survey about malaria, generating information that could help deploy diagnostic and treatment kits. In the U.S., she helped develop Flu Near You, a site creating flu maps based on user-submitted data about symptoms and diagnoses. Chunura, 32, has a Ph.D. from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health, Sciences and Technology and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Caltech. This year’s honorees are currently featured online at technologyreview.com, and in the September/October print magazine, hitting newsstands Sept. 2. They will also appear in person at the EmTech MIT conference Sept. 23-25 in Cambridge, Mass.