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Bob Tkach on the Potential of the Marconi Society

Marconi Society

Each time you quickly grab information from the Internet, watch a video that streams smoothly or have a great Facetime or Skype connection with someone on the other side of the world, you can thank Bob Tkach. Together with Andrew Chraplyvy, Bob developed the technology that vastly increased the transmission speed and capacity of fiber optical communications systems, bringing speed and access to many who would not otherwise have it.

Bob takes an active role in a wide range of organizations, including serving as Chair of the Optical Fiber Communications Conference Steering Committee and on the Technical Advisory Board of the Optoelectronics Industry Association, and the Marconi Society is honored to have him serve as vice chair.

Bob was kind enough to share his vision for the Marconi Society and his plans for expanding the organization’s unique role in championing young innovators.

Q: I know there are a lot of demands on your time. Why do you choose to spend your time with the Marconi Society?

A: After receiving the Marconi Prize in 2009, I really appreciated the opportunity to associate with the other Fellows and I was happy to find ways to be involved with the Marconi Society. Since the group is very focused on communications technology, you can easily find someone who is an subject matter expert on any topic you care to learn about and easily engage with that person. I think the Society has great potential to do some interesting things in the future and I am excited about working with both the Marconi Fellows and the Young Scholars to create further contributions.

Q: What does the Marconi Society do that no one else does and why is that important to you?

A: The Marconi Society gives the Marconi Prize and the Young Scholar Awards to recognize achievement in communication technology. In this way, the first job of the Marconi Society is to keep injecting new life into its actions and thinking by welcoming innovative young people each year.

Q: What has your involvement been in the Young Scholar program? What goals do you have for the program going forward?

A: The Young Scholar Program had just restarted when I became part of the Marconi Society and the group was looking for a Chair for the Selection Committee. I had a fair amount of experience with other awards committees and am passionate about encouraging young innovators in our field, so I took it on.

We have a strong selection committee of about a half-dozen experts, including Marconi Fellows and Young Scholars and it has been a pleasure working with them. We get an amazing collection of nominations each year and selecting the final awardees is the most difficult part. Generally, all the nominees would be credible selections for most awards, but we can only award a few Young Scholar honors and we have to be highly selective.

I expect the field to be even more competitive this year, as the Marconi Society team has made some great strides in reaching out to even more top quality schools and professional organizations to spread the word about the award.

Q: Beyond the Young Scholar award, do you have additional goals for the Marconi Society and what will you focus on as vice chair?

 The Marconi Society is always looking for ways to make an impact by encouraging technologists, scientists and researchers at all stages of their careers.

A great example of this is the Celestini Project, which was conceived of and is run by the Young Scholars. The Celestini Project provides support and mentoring from both Young Scholars and Marconi Fellows to groups of engineering students in developing countries – the program started in Uganda and is expanding to India this year. The students organize into teams to develop technical solutions to problems that they identify as meaningful in their local areas. Last year’s project in Uganda focused on healthcare for pregnant women and our new project in India addresses pedestrian traffic fatalities in Delhi.

Last year, I visited Uganda for the final presentations from the student teams and was very impressed with their work and their passion around using technology for positive social change. I was also amazed at what the Celestini Program was able to do with very little money. It is a high-leverage investment that I hope we can both continue to grow so that we can increase the impact of the Marconi Society.