Innovators for the 21st Century Come in All Ages

The MIT Technology Review has announced for the 13th time its list of the top innovators under the age of 35 in 2013.  At the same time MIT also has acknowledged seven innovators who are more than 70 years of age and still going strong in their fields. Being closer in age to the 70-year-olds I’ll begin by sharing with you their names and a bit about what they have done. They appear in chronological order starting with the most elderly:

Nick Holonyak is 84 and the inventor of the light-emitting diode that is replacing Edison’s incandescent light bulbs, and the laser diode used in DVD players and mobile phones. Today at the University of Illinois he continues his research on quantum-dot lasers.

Mildred Dresselhaus is 82. She is among the first to work with graphene and nanotubes exploiting the themoelectric effect to harvest energy from temperature differences in materials. She authored 39 papers in 2012.

Carver Mead is a 79-year old electrical engineer at Caltech whose work with silicon chips and microelectronics is legendary. But he didn’t stop there and now does research in the field of neural networks studying how animal brains compute. He is still teaching freshman physics at the university and has cofounded more than 20 companies.

Stewart Brand at age 74 is interested in the technology of synthetic biology, reviving extinct species a la Jurassic Park, a subject I have written about in the past and plan to again in the near future. He is the founder and publisher since 1968 of The Whole Earth Catalog, and President of the Long Now Foundation, dedicated to long-term thinking about humanity and the planet.

Leroy Hood is also 74 and most noted for his contributions to the field of genomics and proteomics. He invented the protein sequencer, the protein synthesizer, the DNA synthesizer and the automated DNA sequencer. So contributions to the field is really an understatement. He is the founder and President of the Institute of Systems Biology located in Seattle, and a leader in the emergence of personalized patient-centered medicine.

George Whitesides is also 74 and runs a chemistry and materials science laboratory at Harvard University. He has cofounded 12 companies worth $20 billion. His name appears on 50 patents. One of his inventions is the diagnostic paper chip, an inexpensive tool for doing medical testing in the Developing World.

And finally we have the youngster in this group of distinguished scientists and researchers. She is 73. Her name is Barbara Liskov. She is the winner of the 2008 Turing Award and the IEEE John von Neumann Medal. Her work in developing object-oriented programming has revolutionized computer programming and today she heads up the Programming Methodology Group at MIT.

Seen in the picture below starting at the upper left is Nick Holonyak. To his right Mildred Dresselhaus and then Carver Mead. In the lower row on the left is Stewart Brand. To his right Leroy Hood and George Whitesides with Barbara Liskov the large picture on the extreme right. These are people who prove that human minds matter on this planet even after age 70.


Over 70 MIT Innovators


Now to the youngsters who are all under the age of 35 which makes me feel pretty ancient. They are classified in the following categories:


  • Inventors
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Visionaries
  • Humanitarians
  • Pioneers


In this posting we’ll just briefly describe the inventors in the under 35 category.

Vijay Balasubramaniyan at age 33 is the multi-billion dollar problem of telephone fraud by detecting the origin of the caller sensing what network it originates from, the cable it travels on, etc., building a database of audio patterns that can be analyzed to track down perpetrators of phishing.

David Fattal at age 34 is reinventing 3-D displays making 3-D glasses a thing of the past.

Christine Fleming is a mere 30 and an electrical engineer who has invented a technology that provides high-resolution images of a living heart in real time using optical coherence tomography. With her invention surgeons and cardiologists capture images better than any ultrasound, MRI or cardiac catheterization.

Hao Li is 32. His love of special effects in movies has led him to develop a software technology to capture subtle facial expressions and body movements in actors using depth sensors similar to those found with the Xbox Kinect.

Markus Persson is 34. He is a game inventor and is best known for Minecraft which has sold more than 30 million copies. Minecraft is an adventure game in a world of blocks, a world you create. It can be as interactive as you wish and invites pure imagination.

Morgan Quigley, at age 32, is the developer of ROS, the open source Robot Operating System, the defacto standard for designing and operating robots ROS is Linux for robotics. It can be used to operate a single robot or a network of them working in tandem.

Kira Radinsky at age 27 is the developer of software that in 2012 confounded experts when it predicted months before it occurred, an outbreak of cholera in Cuba, the first in 130 years. This shocked government and medical experts. Radinsky’s software analyzes huge amounts of news reports and data sources to spot patterns in history and then projects these into the future. Shades of Hari Seldon’s psychohistory come to mind?

Matt Rogers at age 30 is the co-founder of Nest, the intelligent thermostat that “never stops learning.”

These eight brilliant young minds can be seen in the picture below beginning with Vijay on the top left and going clockwise to Matt who appears in the bottom left.


MIT Inventors Under 35


We’ll look at the under 35 entrepreneurs, visionaries, humanitarians and pioneers in future postings. Needless to say with young minds as agile and inventive as these, and old minds still showing they can make a difference in our world, the 21st century has in humanity, the collective intelligence to solve almost any problem we face.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...