Vahid Tarokh, a 34-year-old associate professor at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) and a recognized leader in the
research field of wireless communications, will receive the National
Science Foundation's (NSF) highest honor for young scientists and
engineers. The Alan T. Waterman Award, named after NSF's first
director, will be presented at a National Science Board (NSB) dinner
Tarokh is the primary inventor of "space time
coding," a new technique that significantly improves the
speed and reliability of wireless data transmission. These
innovations helped form international standards for the latest cell
phones, personal digital assistants and other wireless devices. By
some estimates, more than one billion handsets might be employing
the space-time codes within five years.
One challenge that Tarokh faced was to design codes that could
dramatically enhance performance, yet still work with existing
wireless transmitters and receivers. His solution was to build on
highly complex mathematical models to develop protocols that may be
transmitted via multiple antennas and received by sites that may or
may not use multiple antennas.
"Dr. Tarokh richly deserves the Waterman Award,"
said Ruzena Bajcsy, NSF assistant director for computer and
information science and engineering. "As a computer
scientist and engineer myself, I would like to add that his
colleagues are especially proud on his behalf, for the recognition
this award brings to the importance of basic research in information
theory and technology."
As a measure of Tarokh's influence, most academic conferences on
wireless communications and information theory now have multiple
sessions on space-time codes, reflecting that many researchers are
now building on his ideas. "Given all these
activities," he said, "I forecast a day when
space-time codes will be used to push very high rates of wireless
data to laptops and other handheld devices."
Tarokh joined MIT's department of electrical engineering and
computer science in September 2000 after rising rapidly within
AT&T Labs, where he was department head for wireless
communications and signal processing. Tarokh's current research
interests also include video indexing and multimedia signal
According to Tarokh, he became interested in wireless at
AT&T, where his supervisor -- A. Rob Calderbank --
"is in the level of classical mathematicians including the
great Claude Shannon himself." Shannon was the legendary
AT&T and MIT researcher whose 1948 paper,
The Alan T. Waterman Award honors an outstanding young U.S.
scientist or engineer who is at the forefront of his or her research
field. The honoree receives a medal, as well as a $500,000 grant
over three years for scientific research or advanced study in any
field of science or engineering.