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Stanford Student Kartik Venkat to Receive the 2015 Marconi Society Young Scholar Award

Karmic Venkat

Mountain View, CA • Kartik Venkat, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University Electrical Engineering School, has been selected to receive the 2015 Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award. The 26-year-old Indian-born researcher will receive the award at the Royal Society in London on October 20, 2015.

“Kartik’s exceptional scientific achievements at this early stage of his professional career stand out,” says Bob Tkach, a Marconi Fellow and chairman of the Young Scholar selection committee. “We were impressed with his innovative work in developing the theory and practice of modern information processing, as well as his outstanding academic achievements. We look for individuals who are on track to make breakthrough contributions in our field—and Kartik meets that standard.”

Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) Professor Shlomo Shamai, who collaborated with Venkat on several papers, says, “Kartik has contributed to the very basic relations and connections between information and estimation. His recent work settles a challenging problem by proving that mutual information on a Gaussian channel is not adequate to characterize the full lookahead estimation performance, unlike the classical results which apply to zero lookahead (filtering) and to infinite lookahead (smoothing.) Kartik has led this scientific effort, which benefited greatly from his original thinking and broad knowledge.”

“Kartik’s work has helped us develop tools to boost the performance of algorithms in machine learning and AI,” says Stanford Professor Tsachy Weissman, Venkat’s PhD advisor and mentor.

“He’s helping us find smarter ways to process a huge quantity of data—which is applicable to a wide array of disciplines.”

Venkat’s work extends far beyond communications problems. For example, it applies to problems pertaining to inference on large scale genomic data. “What is most impressive and unmatched within scholars of equivalent seniority is the breadth of the subjects he contributes to and the depth of his contributions,” Shamai says. “His work carries interesting potential impact on an array of technologies and applications.”

Venkat is a native of Delhi, India and grew up in a family with a strong focus on education. His father was a scientist in India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, and his mother worked in banking. His father encouraged him to become a scientist, and he joined the Electrical Engineering program at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur in 2006. Inspired by a paper by Claude Shannon, often called the “father of information theory,” he sought out papers and books by other leading scientists in the field. Finding that many of them were affiliated with Stanford, he applied to their PhD program and was accepted in 2010.

“What made it so exciting was that at Stanford, I had a chance to interact with truly amazing people, who had made revolutionary contributions to the information sciences,” says Venkat.

Kartik’s principal advisor was Prof. Tsachy Weissman, whose research and style immediately attracted his interest. “Tsachy has been everything I could ever hope for in a research advisor,’’ says Venkat. “He really brings out the best in students.’’

Another of his mentors was the late Stanford Professor Thomas Cover, an information theorist and author of the book “Elements of Information Theory,” which became the most widely used textbook in the world as an introduction to the topic. Venkat also received advice and inspiration from Professor Abbas El Gamal, currently Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering, and considered one of the leading scientists in network information theory. “I asked him for career advice,” Venkat recalls. “He told me to either do something fundamentally new, or take an existing technology or theory and find a transformative new angle. In other words, don’t do incremental work—shoot for the big advances. Of course, a lot of Marconi Fellows have done that.”

Venkat is on track to receive his PhD this December. After that, he wants to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities that apply his work to real world problems, taking “deep ideas in research and using them to transform the way an industry is viewed,” he says. “I don’t know if that will be in academia—or in a company of my own.”

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. Two other Young Scholars were selected this year: Ken Pesyna from the University of Texas, and Joseph Lukens, from Purdue University.

Three other Stanford EE students have won the Marconi Society Young Scholar Award since it was launched in 2008. For more information about the Young Scholars program, go to www.marconisociety.org.

Venkat will receive his award at the same event where Professor Peter Kirstein, considered the “father of the European Internet,” will be honored with the $100,000 Marconi Prize. Other Marconi Fellows with ties to Stanford include Arogyaswami Paulraj, Vint Cerf, Whit Diffie, Martin Hellman, John Cioffi, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The Marconi Society was established in 1974 by the daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel Laureate who invented radio. The organization promotes awareness of key technology and policy issues in telecommunications and the Internet, and recognizes significant individual achievements through the Marconi Prize.

About the Marconi Society

The Marconi Society was established in 1974 by the daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel Laureate who invented radio. The organization promotes awareness of key technology and policy issues in telecommunications and the Internet, and recognizes significant individual achievements through the Marconi Prize.