Managing Committee 2016 - 17

Florilegium

Citation for Rahul Sarpeshkar
Recipient of the OBA Lifetime Achievement Award - 2014


Rahul Sarpeshkar is a professor and scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he heads a research group on Analog Circuits and Biological Systems. His bioengineering group creates novel wet DNA-protein circuits in living cells and also advanced dry nano-electronic circuits on silicon chips.

His longstanding and pioneering work on analog and biological computation has helped create novel analog synthetic biology circuits and biological and bio-inspired supercomputers based on analog computation in cells. In addition, he has invented ultra-energy-efficient and energy-harvesting systems like glucose-powered neural prosthetics; and ultra-low-power implantable medical devices such as cochlear implants or diagnostic devices.

In simple, layman terms, Rahul’s research is based on the fact that the human body is an extremely energy-efficient system. He has been able to use the principles of energy consumption in the human celland apply them to electronic inventions. This could include implants for the deaf, blind, paralyzed and cardiac patients where you need an electronic system to survive on an implanted battery in the human body for 30 years, or it could be a broadband radio chip that could enable an ultra-fast low-power cell phone by using the principles of how the human ear functions. His work has applications in areas as wide as medicine, biotechnology, bioelectronics and even energy-efficient cars – in fact, anything that needs to work for long periods of time with a limited energy supply.

The 1984 batch had star performers academically. Amongst them was one who stood tall - Rahul Sarpeshkar. A short-statured student with explosive knowledge,he was second to none and was admired by our school clergy and teachers for his knowledge, oratory skills and anything cerebral. It was a foregone conclusion that the OBA gold medal was his and he did not disappoint.

In the 4th standard, while the rest of his batch was still reading Enid Blyton, Rahul had finished the entire Hardy Boys collection. In high school, Rahul would spend his lunch breaks sitting in the library poring over encyclopedias and reference books. Every so often, he would be pulled out to explain a difficult mathematics or physics concept that students needed help in understanding. With all his brilliance, Rahul had the uncanny ability to simplify and explain a complex problem in order to make it comprehensible to the rest of us. There was one occasion when the class asked the teacher to stop the lecture and let Rahul take over. The teacher was only too relieved to oblige. Rahul always seemed to have full knowledge of a topic well before it was covered in class.

Rahul’s brilliance did not end in the classroom. He was an eloquent orator and would inevitably win every debating competition. In addition to his outstanding delivery, it was the facts that he put forward to bolster his case that were very hard to dispute. Note that this was well before the days of the Internet and the only source of information were books.

In the 12th standard, Rahul was accepted into a number of the top colleges in the USA with full scholarships, including MIT, which he decided to accept. Nonetheless, after making this decision, Rahul still chose to write the IIT entrance exam. When asked why, his answer was “just for the fun of it”. He ended up getting the 7th place in all of India.

Rahul went on to receivea Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Physics from MIT and a Ph.D. fromCalTech. He then became a member of the technical staff of Bell Labs’ division of biological computation before eventually joining the faculty of MIT.

He holds over thirty patents and has authored more than 120 publications including one featured on the cover of NATURE.

His work on a glucose fuel cell for medical implants was featured by Scientific American among 2012's Ten World Changing Ideas and also by the BBC, Economist and Science News.

He has received several awards for his interdisciplinary bioengineering research including the NSF Career Award, the ONR Young Investigator Award, the Indus Technovator award and the Packard Fellows Award. Recently, he was a speaker at the 2011 ‘Frontiers of Engineering’ conference hosted by the National Academy of Engineering. I am surethat he will receive many more accoladesin the future.

On behalf of the Old Boys’ Association, it is with great pride and pleasure that I commend to Rahul Sarpeshkar, the OBA Lifetime Achievement Award - 2014. Back

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