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Where Are They Now?

A guide to past honorees.

TR100, class of 1999
TR100, class of 2002

It goes without saying: once a TR100 winner, always a TR100 winner. So the last thing we’d do is lose sight of the 200 honorees we’ve previously recognized in the magazine and at our Young Innovators and TR100 conferences. We’re keeping tabs, and the information we have should surprise nobody. Yes, even in the aftermath of the so-called dot-bomb, those remarkable, groundbreaking researchers and inventive entrepreneurs continue taking risks-forming companies, raising venture capital to expand existing enterprises, unveiling technological breakthroughs, and otherwise exploring new frontiers.

Launches

Daniel Branagan (2002) is now chief technical officer of NanoSteel in Maitland, FL, founded in 2002 to commercialize the superhard steel alloys he invented when he was working for the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls, ID.

Last September, former Inktomi chief technology officer Steve McCanne (2002) founded NBT Technology in San Francisco with $6.6 million. Shifting focus from ideas McCanne pioneered at an earlier startup, FastForward Networks, NBT aims to eliminate wide-area network bottlenecks by using software that improves network application performance for customers with far-flung operations.

Professor Adam Arkin (1999) of the University of California, Berkeley, serves as director of the Virtual Institute for Microbial Stress and Survival, which he founded. Funded with a $36.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the institute’s first project-an investigation of various microbes and the ways they neutralize toxins-involves researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley, Sandia, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, San Diego-based Diversa, the University of Washington, and the University of Missouri. Arkin believes the effort could uncover cost-effective ways of using microbes to clean hazardous-waste sites.

European Bioinformatics Institute researcher Ewan Birney (2002) posted Genome KnowledgeBase on the World Wide Web in February 2003. The site, at www.genomeknowledge.org, provides a forum in which collaborators worldwide can contribute their findings about the functioning of human genes.

Dan DiLorenzo (1999), a neurosurgeon and adjunct biomedical engineering professor at Tulane University, has formed NeuroBionics. The Boston startup is developing an implantable self-regulating device DiLorenzo invented to control electrical signals of the nervous system. He says such brain “pacemakers” might one day treat conditions including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, obesity, and depression.

Last July, Steve Tuecke (2002) of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois released the Globus Toolkit 3.0 for grid computing. Among its applications, grid computing plays a major role in the $10 billion On Demand business strategy IBM announced in October 2002. On Demand makes it possible for participating companies to tap into a vast network of computing power much the way they use electricity-by plugging in and paying as they go.

Capital Gains

The sensing and controlled-release technology John Santini (2002) is developing for drug delivery won’t be ready for a few more years. However, the $16 million in venture capital he raised during 2002 should smooth the road to development for MicroChips, his Bedford, MA, company. Recent work has been encouraging. Santini reports that chip implants in animals performed well over a seven-week period, and three- to six-month-long tests have been scheduled.

During the first half of 2003, Vivek Subramanian (2002), a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, helped raise $67 million for Matrix Semiconductor, the company he founded in Santa Clara, CA. Subramanian says that within five years he hopes to have produced disposable plastic semiconductors that will store information and use radio frequency technology to communicate with mobile phones or handheld readers. He expects that the semiconductors will cost less than a penny apiece, making them more viable than conventional bar codes.

Last May Helen Greiner (1999), president of iRobot in Burlington, MA, secured a $13 million infusion that will help her company maintain its market position. The funding will support such products as iRobot’s Roomba, a robot vacuum cleaner that sells for $200, and the $50,000 PackBot, a pug-size robot with a surveillance camera. The U.S. Army used PackBots to search buildings during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Armed with $25 million in venture funding raised late last year, Carmichael Roberts (1999), president of Surface Logix in Brighton, MA, used the company’s core chemistry and soft-lithography technologies to develop organic semiconductors that simulate a range of human biological responses to disease more accurately than animal models can. Roberts expects the precise architecture of these microenvironments to help pharmaceutical companies speed drugs to clinical trials.

Breakthroughs and Milestones

Last March, pilot tests of the PicoPeta Simputer, a handheld device developed by Ramesh Hariharan (2002), were completed in India. Village accountants with no computer experience successfully uploaded data about harvests to central servers that tabulated results and set crop prices. Hariharan’s manufacturing partner, Bharat Electronics, aims to have the Simputer in stores by year-end.

Together with two colleagues, Pamela Lipson (2002), founder of Cambridge, MA-based Imagen, engineered what Guinness World Records declared the world’s smallest reproduction of a book-a five-millimeter-by-five-millimeter edition of the New Testament written in 24-karat gold. Such minuscule printing could be used in identifiers on sensitive materials, foiling thieves and counterfeiters. Image-processing techniques Lipson and Imagen developed are currently being used by Boston-based Teradyne, a manufacturer of automatic inspection equipment, to test electronic components of cell phones, computers, and handheld game machines.

This past spring, Sean Morrison (2002), an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Michigan, discovered that the Bmi-1 gene plays a crucial role in the ability of stem cells found in adult tissues like bone marrow to “self-renew”-to divide in such a way that they give rise to more stem cells. Without Bmi-1, stem cells become depleted. If scientists can harness the regenerative power of stem cells, it may be possible to culture them in the laboratory and use them to treat Parkinson’s disease and a wide variety of other ailments that develop as a consequence of cell death.

Stanford University’s Vijay Pande (2002) accomplished a long-sought goal of computational biology: starting with genome sequence information, he simulated protein folding. Genes provide the recipes for building proteins-the strings of amino acids responsible for many vital functions in the body-but when proteins fold incorrectly, they can become toxic. Pande believes that the ability to correct such mistakes could lead to cures for such ailments as Alzheimer’s disease, Cystic Fibrosis, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob, or mad-cow, disease.

Cryptographer Vincent Rijmen (2002) helped Cryptomathic in Brussels, Belgium, release its electronic-voting and digital-signature products. Encryption can be used to validate e-votes while preserving voter anonymity, supporting legitimate elections under the scrutiny of independent observers. A pilot e-voting test for the European Union is under way.

David Sabatini (2002) of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, MA, won a patent in April for his “reverse-transfection method” for assembling DNA microarrays. These computer-chip-sized devices are dotted with genes or other biological agents, which can be simultaneously tested against therapeutic compounds. Sabatini’s reverse-transfection microarrays could help researchers and drug companies study thousands of interactions of proteins and prospective drugs in a single hour-up to a million per day. Akceli, the Medford, MA, startup Sabatini cofounded, licenses the technology exclusively.

Samir Mitragotri (1999), a chemical engineer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, pioneered “switchable surface” materials early in 2003. Such surfaces could potentially function as tiny valves in implantable devices designed as drug delivery systems or as optical waveguides that bind and release a reflective liquid coating to direct light in fiber-optic cables.

MIT assistant professor Yoel Fink (1999) is excited about his lab’s invention of mirrored fabrics. A manufacturing process the lab developed this year combines alternating bands of polymer and glass to form a “photonic band gap” yarn that can reflect or transmit light with nanoscale precision. Fink plans to further refine his fabrics so that they might one day provide bar-code-like identifiers or transmit optical signals. In 2000 he founded OmniGuide Communications in Cambridge, MA, to develop optical-fiber technologies.

Changes of Scenery

Ethan Zuckerman (2002), cofounder of Geekcorps-a nonprofit company that sends information technology volunteers to underdeveloped countries-and TR100 Technology in the Service of Humanity award winner, has been named a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. In July he cohosted the first Geek Activism Summit, where participants discussed ways to close the global digital divide.

Nanotechnology trailblazer Angela Belcher (2002) left the University of Texas at Austin last year to join MIT as an associate professor. Belcher has recently made strides in quantum dot and nanowire construction. Her process might prove the basis of self-assembling computer chips, optical devices, and biosensors.

PayPal founder and 2002 TR100 Innovator of the Year Max Levchin left the company in December 2002 after its sale to eBay for more than $1.5 billion. He is using his time to catch up with friends and family, and to start a new company he hopes to launch by December 2003. 

Last year Matthew Shair (1999) became a tenured chemistry professor at Harvard University and a founding science advisor to Infinity Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA. The company, with $82 million in seed funding, has made extensive use of Shair’s gift for synthesizing hard-to-create compounds that can be systematically tested for their potential as pharmaceutical drugs.

Last June, Linux inventor Linus Torvalds (1999) went on leave from chip maker Transmeta to join Open Source Development Labs in Beaverton, OR, where he is focusing on the next version of his operating system. The organization is a nonprofit global consortium dedicated to accelerating corporate adoption of open-source software.

In March 2003 Jackie Ying (1999) took a leave of absence from MIT to return to her native Singapore as founding executive director of the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. The institute is part of Biopolis, a 186,000-square-meter government center dedicated to life science research.

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