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How the World’s Brightest Young Engineers Are Helping Us Connect Everything

By Paula Reinman

Connecting everyone and everything in a safe and productive way is one of the holy grails of our time. Of course this means that you’ll be able to stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones the moment it comes out. It also means that we will save lives by immediately providing information about a patient’s condition to medical professionals anywhere.   It means we will improve the environment and the food supply by helping farmers manage fields and crops at a micro level. It means that we will be able to put affordable devices and compelling content in the hands of the world’s 770 million illiterate adults.

These game-changers will all be the result of many more granular innovations that break down barriers in communications and networking. Each year, the Marconi Society, created in 1974 to honor Nobel Laureate and radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi, searches the globe for young engineers and scientists doing groundbreaking work to connect the world. Candidates must be 27 years old or younger, commemorating the age at which Marconi conducted his first major successful wireless transmission.  The best of the best are awarded the Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award, putting them in the company of Marconi Fellows and luminaries such as Vint Cerf, Marty Hellman, Len Kleinrock, Tim Berners-Lee, Andrew Viterbi and others.

This year, we were thrilled and honored to receive an unprecedented 32 nominations for brilliant young researchers from 22 universities in seven countries. These nominations make us confident that the communications technology underpinning our everyday lives will be smarter, faster and safer than ever before.

They also give us a good sense of where the next set of innovations that help connect us all will come from:

Finding people and things faster and more accurately – in an area known as localization and navigation, nominees are focused on different techniques that will move the needle on military, social and commercial applications including healthcare, the food chain and logistics.

Making the Internet of Things real – by 2020, we expect over 50B devices to be connected to the network. Nominees are pushing the boundaries on the limitations in computation, power, bandwidth and resource allocation that stand in the way of this level of connectivity.

Practical, yet secure communications – with security front and center around the world, nominees are innovating by systematically finding security flaws in popular systems or accurately predicting fraud and proactively taking defensive measures to defend networks and users.

Expanding the capacity and quality of wireless networks – a number of nominees are creating innovative ways to bring 5G and its expanded capacity to consumers. Much of this work focuses on transitioning wireless networks from half to full duplex, extending to higher operating frequencies and solving a gamut of issues ranging from the technology needed to provide full duplex to the capacity and management tools required to implement it into existing wireless networks.

Increasing capacity and speed in all parts of the optical network – whether it’s the long haul, metro or local area network, our nominees are working on a myriad of low cost ways to break bottlenecks and speed up processing and throughput in every part of the infrastructure.

Bringing the speed, efficiency and cost benefits of new technology into legacy networks – nominees are tackling the practicalities of backward compatibility and increasing capacity in metro areas where underground facilities are already full of legacy cable.

We are amazed and humbled by the ingenuity, entrepreneurial spirit and raw intelligence of this year’s candidates and by the guidance, encouragement and enthusiasm shown by the mentors and professors who nominated them. We believe that Guglielmo Marconi would be proud.