National Science Foundation
image of Vahid Tarokh
Vahid Tarokh

Wireless Communications
Cambridge, MA
2001 Alan T. Waterman Award
The NSF's Alan T. Waterman Award is named after the first director of the NSF and is awarded to an "outstanding young U.S. scientist of Engineer". Information on the award and recent recipients can be found here.

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 May 23.

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 processing.

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.

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