Today’s mobile data networks are spotty. If you’re not within range of a transmitter or are cut off by large obstacles like skyscrapers, you’re out of luck. The solution could be networks that form only when needed, and Elizabeth M. Belding-Royer may deliver them. As a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Belding-Royer worked with Nokia research fellow Charles Perkins to develop the necessary network protocols—the operational instructions. If your handheld device finds itself with a nonexistent or failing signal, it can use Belding-Royer’s protocols to find and connect with nearby wireless devices. These neighbors then find a path through still other wireless devices to create an ad hoc but solid connection. Designing the protocols helped Belding-Royer land a professorship at UC Santa Barbara, and the Internet Engineering Task Force is now considering turning them into standards. Applied,the protocols could eliminate “dead zones” that wireless transmitters don’t reach and make it cheaper and easier to set up networks everywhere—from the Sahara to downtown Los Angeles.