Unlike the average Indian techie who comes to the US young, typically straight out of IIT, Arogyaswami Joseph Paulraj was late, arriving here after a long career in the Indian Navy.
But his accomplishments are no less. On Tuesday, he picked up the $100,000 Marconi Prize for 2014, a top global honour in communications technology whose past recipients include Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
As a professor at Stanford University Paulraj, 69, pioneered a wireless technology — MIMO smart antenna wireless technology — that is now the backbone of high-speed Internet communication, 4G and every router.
MIMO stands for “multiple input, multiple output”, which speeds up data transfer by splitting up traffic into multiple channels.
“It has taken efforts of thousands of engineers and researchers to make MIMO technology a reality,” Paulraj said, adding, with refreshing humility, “My role, in comparison, is indeed small.”
“Paulraj’s contributions to wireless technology, and the resulting benefits to humankind, are indisputable,” said David Payne, chairman, Marconi Society.
Paulraj couldn’t be contacted but according to information available on Stanford University’s website, work began on the “smart antenna” project in the 1990s.
Paulraj came to Stanford as a visiting scientist in 1992 and stayed on to found two companies, which he eventually sold.
He started at the National Defence Academy, Kharakvasla, graduated in engineering from Naval college at Lonavala and joined the Navy as an engineer.
He went to IIT Delhi for a PhD, and collected many awards and honours along the way including military awards Vishist Seva medal and Ativishist Seva medal.
Paulraj went on to be awarded the civilian award, Padma Bhushan, in 2010 and the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal and the Pan-IIT Technology Leadership Award in 2011.
“Paulraj is the only India-born scientist to receive both the Marconi Prize and the Bell Medal,” IndiaTechOnline.com editor Anand Parthasarathy told IANS in Bangalore.
And the accomplishment is even more remarkable for a man who picked up most of his skills in a country that is so dependent on IT technology imports.