Indian doctoral student wins 2014 Marconi Society Young Scholar award for seminal Information Theory work

02nd September 2014
Indian doctoral student wins 2014 Marconi Society Young Scholar award for seminal Information Theory work

Bangalore, September 2, 2014 –Himanshu Asnani, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University Electrical Engineering School, has been selected to receive the 2014 Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award, which recognizes individuals who have, at an early age, demonstrated exceptional scientific and entrepreneurial capabilities with the potential to create significant advances in telecommunications and the Internet. The award will be presented in Washington D.C. on October 2, 2014. 
“Himanshu’s outstanding work and contributions to point-to-point and multi-terminal channel coding and source coding problems were impressive,” says Bob Tkach, chairman of the Society’s Young Scholar Selection Committee. “Each year we review nominations of top researchers from around the globe.  Even in this elite group, his academic and entrepreneurial achievements stand out.”
Professor Tsachy Weissman, Asnani’s primary advisor at Stanford University, says, “In his graduate studies, Himanshu has made profound contributions to our understanding of the fundamental limits in new communication and data compression scenarios (both point-to-point and multi-terminal), the structure of the schemes that achieve these limits, their implementations, and their performance in practice. His work runs the gamut from the theoretical to the applied. He is attracted to important problems, and is as passionate about understanding their deep theoretical underpinnings as he is about developing, implementing and experimenting with practical schemes that make a difference.”
A stellar student, he earned an All India Rank (AIR) -4 in the IIT JEE Examination, and a place at the Electrical Engineering School at IIT, Mumbai. He received a Bachelor of Technology in 2009 and was immediately accepted to Stanford’s Electrical Engineering School where he earned his M.S. in 2011, and then began his Ph.D studies.
Whereas his undergraduate studies focused on how systems connect and communicate, his graduate studies focused on information theory.  “What intrigued me was the idea that communication and networking could be used to connect and inspire people,” says Asnani.  “By helping people share ideas and meaningful questions and answers, I was applying theory to real life problems with tangible impacts and outcomes.”
His initial research focused on cooperation in communication, which can dramatically boost the performance of a network. He helped establish fundamental limits in source coding scenarios involving the availability of side information in the form of a lossily compressed version of the source. He and his collaborators also introduced new feedback communication models in which the transmitter and receiver can take actions that drive feedback acquisition-- models which capture many practical scenarios in which the quality or availability of feedback is governed by a cost constraint. 
“If you have a whole communications scenario, how do you introduce more intelligence into it?” he asked. “In a nutshell, by introducing cooperation between the entities, so they can see each other and learn where to go to collect information.”
Another focus was Human Genome Compression, a perfect opportunity for Asnani to marry his early interest in medicine with his technological skills. The vast amounts of genomic sequencing data being generated by Next Generation Sequencing technology may occupy tens or even hundreds of gigabytes of disk space, including both the nucleotide sequences and per-base quality scores that account for about half of the required disk space. He and his collaborators found a new way to compress quality scores, resulting in significantly reduced storage requirements and fast analysis and transmission of sequencing data. The algorithm they developed has the potential to be part of a more general compression scheme that works with the entire FASTQ file without loss of fidelity, a first in the Genomic Community.
Prof. Weissman says all of Asnani’s research endeavors are grounded in and motivated by timely real-world problems in communication and compression.  “He has developed deep insights and results of independent theoretical significance and elegance, and he uses these insights for guiding the design of new schemes in the motivating problem domains,” says Prof. Weissman. From action and actuation in communication, real-time and limited-delay coding, distributed communication and compression in networks, to compression of genomic and meta-genomic data, all his results should have direct bearing on industrial applications. For example, several companies dealing with almost incomprehensibly large amounts of sequenced genomic data are interested in implementing some of our schemes for meta-genomic data compression on their platforms. Himanshu’s work has demonstrated to them that the savings in storage resources due to such implementations would be considerable.”
Dr. Haim Permuter, a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Ben Gurion University of the Negev who collaborated with Asnani on several projects, called him “by far the best young researcher in information and communication theory that I have met.”
Asnani currently works as a System Engineer at Ericsson Silicon Valley, R&D department, where he interned in the summer of 2008, working on a variety of technology leadership projects which are now being implemented in mainstream Ericsson’s products.  His assignments now include a number of emerging areas, including designing Next Generation Communication and Computer Networks. He also has been leading Ericsson's collaborations with many startup partners and vendors to port new features and applications in an SDN-NFV based cloud platform.
Asnani and another Young Scholar will receive their awards at the Marconi Society’s annual awards gala at the National Academies of Sciences Building in Washington D.C. on October 2, 2014.
The first woman to receive the Young Scholar award was also an Indian researcher:  Aakanksha Chowdhery
Jay Kumar Sundararajan, a 2003 graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, with S.M. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (currently employed as a Senior Engineer in R & D at Qualcomm Inc.) was one of the first recipients.
Out of 23 Young Scholars  selected since 2008, three  have been Indians.
The Marconi Society is best known for its annual $100,000 Marconi Award and Fellowship given to living scientists whose scope of work and influence emulate the principle of “creativity in service to humanity."   India-born Stanford Professor A.J. Paulraj has won the 2014 Marconi Prize, honoured for his pioneering contributions to developing the theory and applications of MIMO antennas. The Marconi Society's Awards Gala on October 2 will therefore see two Indians -- Paulraj and Asnani -- honoured.