“The important thing is to be a man of the world. That’s what I have tried to be… and to a small extent succeeded. But I like to do things for people.”

— Narinder Singh Kapany

Image credit– R. R. Jones

 

He bent light. Something that his middle school teacher mentioned was impossible. In doing so, Narinder Singh Kapany lit the way for fiber optics and its myriad possibilities – high speed internet connectivity, medical imaging, defense surveillance techniques, superior quality broadcasting, stagecraft, laser lighting decoration, to name a few. The Father of Fiber Optics made it possible to transmit data (sound, light and images) from end to end at high speed and over longer distances with a near-zero loss in content. And all this in the world of 1952.

“He was a pioneer. An enthusiastic promoter of a technology that long seemed more like science fiction than fact.”

— Jeff Hecht, Science Journalist

 

The talking point: Narinder Singh Kapany

Born in 1936 in small town Moga in Punjab in British India, Kapany belonged to a simple background. His father worked in the coal industry. His early schooling in Dehradun throws up an interesting story.

“A small Kodak camera gifted by my father egged me to understand what happens inside. My physics teacher’s declaration that ‘light travels only in a straight’ line was the trigger point.”

Determined to understand what transpires between image and its reflection, the young lad who had played enough with the box camera knew that prisms and lens could alter the course of light.

 

Graduation and thereon:

A bachelor’s degree in science was followed by a brief job stint at the Indian Ordinance and Factories Services. Here he learnt how to design and manufacture optical instruments. But his innate interest in research and the much longed-for technical training alongside, led him to pursue an internship in Scotland.

“At that time, I was just looking at learning the trade to set up an optics unit back home.”

However, a chance meeting with Physicist Harold Hopkins (by then, a towering name), exposed Kapany to an entire set of scientists and researchers who, like him, believed that light could bend. In fact, they were already studying ways to transmit light via malleable glass fibers. In 1952, he enrolled for post-graduate studies at Imperial College, London, and persuaded Hopkins to hire him as a research assistant.

 

So, what was new about his take?

Well, simply put, the young Kapany scored where others failed. Through a series of persistent experiments, he was able to channel light through a bundle of glass sheaths. He brought alive Hopkins’ and his own surmise that light at high-speed can indeed bend, be made to circle and even invert when diffused through a material that will not detract from its speed. In short, his efforts led to “fiber which permitted optics.” Years later, this fiber went through evolution and emerged as glass-silica.

His path-breaking experiment involved passing light through a 75-centimetre-long unit of 20,000 fiber (glass) bundles, each thinner than human hair. The revolutionary findings were published in Nature in 1954 sharing fine notes from their experiment.

 

Then, the proverbial, no looking back…:

Later that year, Kapany, presented the paper at a science seminar in Italy. Visiting faculty from American universities took note and “… a placement at the University of Rochester soon followed. One job led to another and instead of heading back to India as was the original plan, I set up my first company in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley) in 1960. The firm went public in 1967 with several corporate acquisitions and joint-ventures in the United States and abroad.” — (April 2011 interview on YouTube).

 

In scientific terms…

The modern fiber optic cables are “pipes” that carry emails or social media postings around the world in one-seventh of a second. Information is coded in a beam of light which uses optical technology to pass down the glass or plastic pipe, which in turn is made up of hundreds of glass sheaths. The entire working is based on total internal reflection. When bent through a glass slab at calculated angles, the beam will be mirrored and absorbed in entirety due to the difference in densities of different mediums. The fiber optics is a thinner-than-hair silica glass drawn to lengths.

 

So, without Kapany, what would have been different?

His relentless research made possible the “internet era.” The common picture of earth meshed in communication wires with technology driving mankind to futuristic goals owes a lot to him. Had his invention not come into being, perhaps, copper cables, signal and Morse codes and radio waves (cellphones) would still have been the faster way to transmit data.

Reel time and real time would have been far apart and a pandemic like Corona would have completely stalled progress. Correspondence, reference or download at the click of a key, tethered to high-speed cables would not have emerged. And the 1800’s scientists Colladon and Tyndall’s principles of internal reflection would perhaps have remained unharnessed to its optimal living potential.

In the medical field, fiber optic technology is used in small, compact instruments that assist physicians in robotic surgeries or internal diagnostics. Defense monitoring systems work on light images coded into electromagnetic pulses and down the fiber optic route to appear on screens located remotely. Aeronautics, oil and gas and automobile industries are all using the fiber optic cable to cater to specific technology at their end. The possibilities are endless and research is on.

 

Physicist, entrepreneur, academic, researcher… the list is endless:

To his credit, Kapany has published over 150 scientific papers, written four books on entrepreneurship and optoelectronics and taught at numerous reputable institutions in Illinois and California, including UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz and at Stanford. His inventions awaiting a patent outnumber 100 and this includes in diversified fields such as solar energy, geological study for seismic and wind patterns and for pollution monitoring.

 

…a philanthropist with a heart of gold:

No mention of Kapany is complete without his contribution to the Sikh community. If science were his pursuit, the hitherto neglected Sikh arts and literature were his passion. He set up the Sikh Foundation in the Bay Area in 1967 to preserve and foster the masterpieces of Sikh art and to further the essential teachings of peace and harmony of his religion. He has even constituted a scholarship to help Sikh students with funding higher studies in the US and UK.

 

To conclude:

In November 1999, Fortune magazine tagged him as one of the seven unsung heroes of the twentieth century. His contributions revolutionized living and made possible huge technological advancements. In some ways, he preceded the world of Gates and Jobs.

Had Kapany’s invention of fiber optics not come to the fore, perhaps, Microsoft and Apple would not have won with such speed as did their products. Many say the Nobel missed him and the 2009 Nobel to Charles Kao remains a debatable guess. The Indian government honored him posthumously with the 2021 Padma Vibhushan for outstanding contribution in the world of science and technology.

They all had a dream. And it led them to ignore ground reality.

These women of substance are not the usual one line-clinchers. They talk deep and question deeper. Physics, chemistry, math, bio-sciences, psychology and neuro-sciences are their respective arenas. While they work out groundbreaking theories or deduce new formulae to compute faster, what they actually wrestle with are gender stereotypes. Being a tall figure in what still remains a “man’s domain,” STEM, these women are every reason to believe: If you want to, you can.

The UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, aimed at celebrating women leaders in STEM, is a clear message from the world body that STEM avenues are now more open than ever before for women. This benchmark date attempts to slowly but surely fade out the unconscious bias nurturing gender inequality.

The age-old yoke that women must gravitate towards career options that allow a domestic routine as well, needs to be eroded. These, of course, are deep-rooted ideas embossed on the collective consciousness of successive milieus and will therefore take another set of successive milieus to delete forever. The silver lining is that change is underway.

We list below 12 inspiring women achievers who are reasons to STEM like a girl.

 

Linda B. Buck
(1947)

American Biologist

(Nobel Prize in Medicine (2004) for her work in the olfactory process)

Linda Buck is every reason to believe that one must have a distinctive nose for something.

“As a woman in science, I sincerely hope that my receiving a Nobel Prize will send a message to young women everywhere that the doors are open to them and that they should follow their dreams.”

Apart from being a puzzle-solver in childhood days, nothing about Buck suggested how life would unfold. In 1965, she enrolled for an undergrad psychology course at the University of Washington. Not sure of her choice, she took time to travel as college was happening in bouts and phases. A lecture in immunobiology sparked her interest and in 1975, 10 years after she enrolled, Buck graduated with a BS in microbiology and psychology.

Thereon, a PhD in immunology at the Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, led her to further trail the scent of what her brain thought was the ultimate puzzle.

“How could humans and mammals detect over 10,000 odorous chemicals and how could nearly identical chemicals generate different odor perceptions?”

— Buck stated post the Nobel honor.

The research took her to Columbia and to Richard Axel, a neuroscientist, working on the molecular structure in the nervous system of sea-snails. Three years of hard work led them to publish a paper in 1991 which established the 1,000 olfactory receptors in mice versus 350 such receptors in humans.

But she wanted to delve deeper to understand how does the brain relate a particular experience or memory to a specified smell and in turn how does that memory live the transient smell again or trigger attraction and aversion.

This time the light was focussed on the brain’s olfactory cortex. Years of hard work backed by tonnes of research papers led her to a full-time position at Harvard in 2001. In 2004, Axel and she were jointly awarded the Nobel for their work in understanding the olfactory receptors.

 

Donna Strickland
(1959)

Canadian Physicist

(Nobel Prize in Physics (2018) for developing Chirped Pulse Amplification)

Donna Strickland says she studied lasers as a Freshman at McMasters University, Ontario, because “lasers sound cool.” One of the three women in a class of 25 to have graduated in Physics in 1981, Strickland almost lived her mother’s dream. Way back in the 1940s, when her mother expressed her aptitude for the sciences as a university course, she was strongly dissuaded. Why?

Because “women are better served by taking arts.” Strickland is the third woman to have received the Nobel in physics. Her award came 55 years after Maria Goepert Mayer, whom Strickland referred to as “he” in her thesis and now laughs at her own ignorance. But even more, sneers at the ingrained gender inequity… for all serious stuff, a man it is.

Strickland went on to the University of Rochester, New York, to pursue a doctorate under Gérard Mourou, who was working on ultra-short high-intensity laser pulses.

“It is the one time in my life that I worked very, very hard!”

Together, the duo published their Nobel-winning research in 1985 and paved the way for the most intense laser pulses ever created. The study finds application in laser eye surgeries, machining of small glass parts used in smartphones, medical imaging and presents an entirely new spectrum into cancer studies.

Interestingly, even though she earned herself a PhD in Optics in 1989, a full-time job did not come her way till eight long years. Her scientific explanation for this unscientific trend is the “two-body problem.”

In an interview to nobelprize.org, Strickland explained that in a marriage between two academics, the unspoken principle is that women must put their career on the back-burner. She moved along with her Physicist husband Doug Dykaar wherever his work took him. Eventually in 1997, she was hired by the University of Waterloo.

 

May-Britt Moser
(1963)

Norwegian Psychologist and Neuroscientist

(Nobel Prize in Medicine (2014) for discovery of grid cells in the brain by which animals are able to navigate their environment)

May-Britt Moser comes from Hans Christian Andersen’s region and her childhood seems like a page out of a fairy-tale. Born in the small island town of Fosnavåg in west Norway, Moser does have the Elsa-Anna look. Only that, even as a little girl, she liked studying a snail’s behavior or watching the sheep on the farm for hours to understand what goes on in their minds as opposed to flitting about with butterflies or feeding squirrels.

“My father worked as a carpenter and my mother was a homemaker,” she reports, adding: “The one thing I did learn was that work keeps us happy”

After her under graduation in psychology at the University of Oslo, which she and her future-husband Edvard completed together. The duo notched a Master’s thesis mentored by the acclaimed Terje Sagvolden and Per Andersen. Rats, water-mazes, lesions, hippocampus, dorsal and ventral brain…. this was their world till their thesis was published in The Journal of Neuroscience .

This watershed moment brought the young couple much limelight in academia and also the force to persist in their study of the brain. Funding for two PhDs, marriage and two girls along the way, they kept going with university grants in London and Edinburgh.

Nothing was allowed to come in the way of their study to unravel cognitive processes (such as memory) and spatial deficits associated with human neurological conditions such as Alzheimer disease. Finally, in 2005, they arrived at what they were looking for! Grid cells in the brain that govern our understanding of spaces and directions and how we navigate our environment.

In several interviews, Moser recalls her school teachers who were crucial in encouraging “female students” to live their dream. At that time, all she wanted to be was a doctor and travel abroad.

To her credit, Moser is today a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Her theory is the guiding principle for many doctors. She travels across the world as a luminary in her field.

 

Cynthia Breazeal
(1967)

Roboticist and Professor at MIT

(Known for pioneering social robots and working on artificial intelligence)

Cynthia Breazeal is the archetypal gizmo queen. Armed with technical expertise, she works on secret life codes that breathe artificial intelligence into machines! Simply put, she creates robots which respond to the environment around them.

Star Wars with its iconic R2D2 and C3PO left an indelible impression on the mind of 10-year-old Breazeal. She went on to a postgraduate program in space robotics at MIT in 1992. Led by renowned roboticist Rodney Brooks, they focused on building small robots to work in the farthest reaches of space without direct human guidance.

Almost living her childhood dream, Breazeal threw herself into the subject but the focus came in 1997 after NASA landed a robot in space. And here she realized that motor skills-adept robots would remain servile to human commands till an emotional quotient is ingrained into their intelligence.

That is where her story really begins. Breazeal went on to create Kismet , the first humanoid robot to sense and respond to human feelings and emotions. Thereon, came Autom , which helps people stick to their diets and Aida , the driving assistant. And then the acclaimed Jibo , the family robot that functions as a member. All available at retail prices.

The lingering question if robots will ever find practical application is answered by statistics and changing needs. Ageing population, nuclear to monochrome set-ups and the world having gone through a virtual year, Breazeal’s concept of robots as adapting to and supplementing human needs may just be the next big thing.

 

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell
(1943)

British Astrophysicist and Astronomer

(Known for discovering space-based Pulsars)

“You do not have to learn lots and lots. You just learn a few key things, and then you can apply and build and develop from those. He was a really good teacher and showed me how easy Physics was.”

— Jocelyn Bell Burnell on her physics teacher, Mr Tillott.

Had Mr Tillott not entered young Burnell’s life, it would perhaps have taken an entirely different route.

Born in Northern Ireland to a family of Quakers, Burnell’s parents were progressive and protested for an overturn of the local school’s policy which clearly delineated a curriculum for girls and boys. In the 1940s, cooking, baking and cross-stitching were among the core essentials of girls’ curriculum.

Her father, an architect, who helped design the Armagh Planetarium, and his library of books on astronomy sparked an early interest in Burnell. However, she did not fare well in academics and failed the high school entrance exams.

Undeterred, her parents sent her to a Quaker Boarding School in England. That little belief and encouragement in their daughter’s abilities made all the difference. In 1965, she graduated with a degree in physics.

The following year saw her pursue Radio Astronomy at Cambridge University. As a part of a team of students and researchers, she helped design a massive radio telescope to monitor quasars. Burnell was thereon assigned to analyze the recorded data. She noticed some anomalies in the usual quasar pattern and took her jottings to thesis advisor Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle.

The finding was a discovery! Over the next few months and in collaboration with Hewish, they were able to establish “neutron stars,” fast spinning stars too small to form Black Holes but nonetheless the ones that emit high frequency radio waves. The new entity was labelled, Pulsars. Undeniably, the pioneer remained Burnell. But what followed was sheer gender bias towards recognizing a woman’s achievement.

In 1968, Nature , published the findings. Six years later, in 1974, only Hewish and Ryle received the Nobel Prize for their work. “Student” Burnell’s work was overlooked. Many still await the fifty-year wait to open the archives to understand what went through the Nobel Awards Committee in deciding the year’s winners. Come January 2024, and being a woman would have proved another point. Even in Nobel circles.

 

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
(1947)

French Virologist

(Nobel Prize in Medicine (2008) for discovery of the HIV which made possible anti-AIDS medication and management)

“We are not making science for science. We are making science for the benefit of humanity.”

— Françoise Barré-Sinoussi in the 1980s

Barré-Sinoussi words rang true in 2020 when all of humanity was left at the mercy of scientific research for a possible vaccine to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.

Born in Paris, it was her summers spent in the idyllic countryside that shaped the mind to be. “I could spend hours just watching the smallest insects. ” Barré-Sinoussi liked to observe, record and deduce.

So, enrolling in the bio-medical science program at the University of Paris at 19 was more a calling of the heart. However, mere lectures did not interest her and she often bunked class to work at the Pasteur Institute. It was an active zone with Jean-Claude Chermann studying retroviruses in mice.

Barré-Sinoussi was awarded PhD in 1974 for a paper in retrovirology research. And this, after being dissuaded by a senior mentor: “A woman in science, they never do anything. They are only good at caring for the home and babies. Forget this dream.”

Years later in several interviews, this gritty face has been recorded saying:

“Thank God I had a dream.”

Perhaps it let her ignore the reality. After a brief stint at the National Institute of Health in the US, Barré-Sinoussi returned to join the lab with Luc Montagnier in Paris. Sometime in 1982, a “new alarming epidemic” targeting homosexual men was rattling medics and virologists across the world. It was here that her work gained momentum.

A fortnight later, Francoise and her team isolated the rogue. What was later labelled as HIV, her identification led to blood tests to detect the infection and to anti-retroviral drugs. AIDS was no longer a death sentence. The Luc-Francoise jury overturned the penalty into a chronic malaise.

Barré-Sinoussi continues to study possible cures for AIDS. Over a dozen national and international awards for her crusade in HIV research, she heads a lab for anti-retroviral therapy at Pasteur Institute.

— Quotes taken from mosiacscience.com.

 

Ana Caraini
(1985)

Romanian-American Mathematician

(Research subjects include algebraic number theory and Langlands program)

While Romania scores high with more women than men in gymnastics, the tally is a gross reverse in mathematics. Ana Caraini is only the second woman apart from Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea to have vaulted high in math.

In 2001, when Caraini was 16, she came into the limelight when she bagged the silver medal at the International Mathematics Olympiad. For Romania, this accolade came after 25 years.

The following two years saw her bag gold medals. After high school, she took the Bucharest-Princeton route that most Math wizards from her country took. While still an undergrad, she won the Putnam Fellow Mathematical Competition twice. Again, she was noticed as the only woman to have notched the laurel more than once.

The degree in 2007 came with an undergraduate thesis in Galois representations. Thereon, a doctorate from Harvard in 2012 and awards and recognitions were just a matter of time. Caraini bagged the Whitehead Prize of the London Mathematical Society in 2017 and emerged one of the winners at the European Mathematical Society in 2020.

Caraini is a “to watch out for” the Fields Medal. The only other woman to have been conferred the honor was Maryam Mirzakhani in 2014.

 

Uma Chowdhry
(1947)

American Chemist

(Specializes in the science of ceramic materials and polymer technology)

Born and brought up in Mumbai, Uma Chowdhry graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Bombay in 1968. Like most bright Indian kids, it was the US calling for higher studies.

All set to take on nuclear physics, Chowdhry’s preference changed allegiance and she took on Chemistry instead. After graduating from the University of California in 1970, she worked for a brief stint at the Ford Motor Company. Driven by a mind keen to explore, she went on to earn a PhD in materials science from MIT in 1976.

Chowdhry joined the chemical giant, DuPont, in 1977 as a research scientist. An interdisciplinary field, materials science draws on the principles of physics, chemistry, metallurgy and engineering to create performance-efficient materials or improve upon existing options.

She focused chemistry on ceramics, a known non-conductor of electricity. She researched and developed ceramics that conduct electricity even better than metals do.

“I had the courage to dream the impossible,” is how she summed up her feat.

This superconductor found potential uses in computers, batteries, and other electrical devices. The technologies she contributed to at DuPont are now a part of electronic packaging, photovoltaics, batteries, biofuel, and many sustainable products that fundamentally change the way we use everyday things.

Picking up awards and publishing papers on newer findings became the norm for quest-driven Chowdhry. It was just a matter of time that she was promoted to the management at DuPont, a position which she held for 33 years till her retirement in 2010.

Kudos to this researcher and woman business leader for living up STEM possibilities in corporate sectors.

 

Persis Drell
(1955)

American Physicist

(Best known for her expertise in Particle Physics)

Persis Drell grew up on the Stanford campus in one of the original 12 homes built for the faculty by Leland Stanford. Her father, Dr Sidney Drell, was a famous physicist of his times and their home, often a brainstorming hub with like-minded luminaries dropping-in.

“I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.”

Interestingly, Drell scored low in math and physics in school. But that did not deter her. A bright kid and with academic support at home, she went on to graduate in the same two subjects from Wellesley College.

“I owe a lot to Professor Phyllis Fleming. She inspired me to pursue physics. I took every course Miss Fleming taught.”

Poised on the springboard of an accomplishment was just the jumping point into further depths. A PhD in atomic physics and thereon postdoctoral work in high-energy physics from Berkeley National Laboratory followed suit.

Her career mapped its way from a teaching role at Cornell to administration at Stanford in 2002 and eventually in 2014, she was named dean of Stanford School of Engineering. She was the first woman to have ever held that post. In 2017, she became Provost at Stanford.

Dr Drell is known for her questions. On public forums, she has often debated on “urgent versus interesting” research. To her credit, Stanford changed from being a solely high-energy-physics-focused enterprise to a leader in multiple scientific disciplines. It was under her stewardship that the Linac Coherent Light Source, the world’s first X-Ray free-electron laser, came online.

Today researchers are using it to formulate better blood pressure drugs, study crystal formation and shockwaves in diamond.

 

Rita Levi Montalcini
(1909-2012)

Italian Neurobiologist

(Nobel Prize in Medicine (1986) for discovery of nerve growth factor NGF)

Rita Levi Montalcini must have had nerves of steel to steal her own way with nerves. When asked by Scientific American in 1988, why she became a scientist, she answered:

“The love for nerve cells, a thirst for unveiling the rules which control their growth and differentiation, and the pleasure of performing this task in defiance of the racial laws issued in 1939 by the Fascist regime were the driving forces.”

When Montalcini died at the age of 103, she was a veritable tome. All rolled into her were annals of history and aerial bombardments, chronicles of culture and racial persecution, fleeing through conflict-stricken geographical boundaries as opposed to modern-day countries and, of course, the story of being a Jewish girl growing up only to raise her own family.

As a teenager, Montalcini admired Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf and wanted to become an author. In her autobiography, In Praise of Imperfection, she writes how seeing a close family friend lose life to cancer, changed it all. The University of Turin Medical School happened only after a persistent fight with her Jewish background.

The university course brought Montalcini under the wings of neuro-histologist Giuseppe Levi and helped the young student clearly identify her stream — the nervous system. When she graduated in 1936, the then Italian education system did not require a Masters or PhD. She was now a certified MD who chose to remain Levi’s assistant at the university.

However, two years later, Mussolini’s 1938 Manifesto of Race clipped the young researcher’s aspirations. Laws barring Jews from academic and professional careers were strictly enforced.

Did Montalcini give up? No.

She was barred from working at the laboratory. But the laboratory could always work at home! In her autobiography again, Montalcini pens the narrative of looking around for eggs to “feed her little ones at home.” No one would ever suspect that a woman would cycle the heavily-Nazi police patrolled streets looking for eggs to carry out experiments at home.

With such grit and determination, little wonder then that after World War II, Montalcini went to the University of Washington in St. Louis. There she isolated and identified the “nerve growth factor,” a discovery which earned her and research partner Stanley Cohen the 1986 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Montalcini’s discovery elucidated how embryonic nerve cells grow into a totally developed nervous system and, in general, how a damaged nervous system could be repaired.

 

Sandra Faber
(1944)

American Astronomer

(Credited with establishing that the brightness of galaxies is related to speed of stars within. Also, co-designed the Keck telescope. Sandra Faber’s studies are a key to tackling global warming and conservation of earth)

As a young adult, the only thing Faber was sure about was learning where the universe came from. The formation of galaxies and the jig of many such fast-circling entities fitting into the structure of the universe is what she wanted to unravel. A passionate cosmologist even as a child, Faber recalls reading and spending summers in a worthwhile hands-on learning experience.

Much later, in 1972, she went on to complete a PhD from Harvard specializing in Optical Observational Astronomy. Later that year, she found herself as a faculty at Lick Observatory at the University of California, thereby becoming the first woman on staff.

This was a turning point because hence far, she was confused about:

“How could a woman be a scientist. A high school science teacher was just as far women could go…. And a woman scientist in the 1940s and 1950s, was a single woman. I was confused.”

But once enabled with the position, Faber took her dreams higher. To observe space, one needed the tools and funds. Her credibility was fast picking up with the many research papers published and at seminars where she delivered lectures.

In 1983, Faber’s original research negated previously held notions of “dark matter” being composed of fast-moving neutrons. Grants from NASA and National Science Foundations kept the work going.

Mastering the techniques of observational recording, data collection and fine calibrating a computer to meet the requirements of her work, Faber spearheaded the construction of the Keck telescope in Hawaii in 1985. Alongside, in the same year, fundamentals worked out by her were used in building the first wide-field planetary camera for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Awarded with many national and international awards, Faber was honored with the National Medal for Science by President Obama in 2013.

 

Barbara Liskov
(1939)

American Computer Scientist

(Pioneering computer languages and system design)

Ever wonder how net banking works? Or how do systems in the office orchestrate many devices into one large hub? The world owes a big thank you to Barbara Liskov who developed the language of veritable computer communities.

If Charles Babbage is the father of the modern-day computers, Liskov is undeniably the one who made possible its infinite uses. Without specialized coded languages Argus, CLU and Thor, desktops would have remained mere sophisticated office filing systems to store, compute and retrieve data.

In 1961, when Liskov earned an undergraduate degree in Mathematics from Berkeley, she was the only woman in a class full of men. Keen on studying further, she applied to Princeton and Harvard.

Interestingly, at that time, Princeton was not accepting women in math. Though accepted at Berkeley, she went on to work for a year at Mitre Corporation and returned to a programming job at Harvard.

By now, Liskov recognized her forte was the coded world of computer languages. Keen on learning more, in 1968 she became the first woman in the United States to have earned a PhD in computer sciences.

The thesis on chess-endgames was mentored by John McCarthy. In 1971, she was offered a faculty position at MIT, which she holds till date. Publisher of over 100 papers on technical subjects, the A.M. Turing Award came her way in 2008. Liskov was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2012.

1st century skills
 

Raymond, a senior software engineering manager, had given 17 prime years of his life to the organization he last worked with. When the management started hiring people with advanced computing skills, it didn’t strike him then that something was amiss. But one day, the management called Raymond and his team of five other software engineers and asked them to leave unceremoniously.

As Raymond struggled to cope with the news, he recalled his former manager’s words when he had exhorted all of them to re-skill and re-invent themselves to fit into an increasingly tech-driven world.

 

“My programming skills are very outdated. When I look around, I see youngsters are catching up on the emerging tech skills. I have been stalling the idea of reskilling for a long time now. If only I had taken my former manager’s words seriously about learning the ropes of the latest technology, I wouldn’t be unemployed right now,” laments Raymond.

 

This may just be a case in point, but it is a sad reality that most companies face due to the gap in tech skill sets. As technology is evolving and organizations are scrambling to adopt big data, data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and other emerging technologies, there is an increasing need to bridge the gap between academia and industry.

 

Problem of skill-set gap amidst plenty

skill-set gap

According to Gartner, in its 2018 Shifting Skills Survey, 70 percent of the current workforce are yet to master the skills required for their work. While 80 percent revealed they do not have the skills required for their current and future positions.

The tech positions that lie vacant in the US alone stand staggeringly at over half a million, a strong testimony to the skill-set gap. Several positions among them include skills in programming, app/web software development, designing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, cloud computing, business intelligence, data analytics among others.

It is interesting to note that the European Commission has pointed out that about 37 percent of the workforce in Europe do not have the basic digital skills, leave alone the advanced technical skills that are required to keep up with digital technologies.

The irony, however, is that these technologies keep evolving rapidly and all businesses big and small incorporate them no sooner than the employees can upskill themselves. According to a Salesforce Research on The future of Workforce Development, 68 percent of hiring managers believe that to keep pace with such non-stop, rapid-changing tech advancements, formal retraining programs are required to prepare the workforce. Therefore, the only way professionals can keep up is by upskilling and re-inventing themselves.

 

Hard to overlook STEM education and hands-on learning

STEM-education

Interestingly, tech organizations are calling on universities and colleges to prepare the workforce of the future by focussing on developing curriculum that are tech-focussed and hands-on rather than theory-based. This is where  STEM education plays a crucial role  and the early it is introduced in the education system, the better it is to close the skill gap. Industry leaders have come forward and stressed on the need to focus on STEM education to help fill in the STEM jobs that lie vacant.

 

“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”

— National Science Foundation

 

A recent study conducted by the Mckinsey Global Institute indicated that by 2030 the amount of time employees put in on advanced technological skills will see a surge by 50 percent in the US alone, and 41 percent in Europe. The study also estimated that around the same time, the requirement for advanced IT and programming skills will increase close to 90 percent.

So, what are the most popular 21st century deep tech skills that are being sought-after by professionals to advance their career?

According to Udemy’s  2020 Workplace Learning Trends Reports  — where the online learning platform analyzed data from over 40 million users — it was found that the most popular and top emerging tech skills include programing, data science, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, machine learning, web and mobile development, internet of things, quantum computing among others.

On the lines of Udemy’s learning trends reports, LinkedIn has also listed its most in-demand tech skills which include: blockchain, robotics, UX design, computer graphics, software testing, game development, scientific computing to name a few.

As automation is transforming businesses and workplaces, it has become highly imperative for the workforce of today to be able to speak the language of the tools and keep abreast of the emerging technologies.

The World economic Forum says around 133 million new jobs will be created across the globe by 2022 because of the work break-up between machines and humans. It also states that around 54 percent of the workforce will need to be reskilled remarkably by 2022.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution — which according to salesforce, “is a fusion of advances in AI, robotics, IoT, 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies” — is bringing about transformative changes in almost every industry and businesses, let’s focus on some of the major tech trends that are crucial to keep up with if you don’t want to run the risk of being left behind.

 

Web development:

web development

 

“Don’t just play on your phone. Program it. If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”

— Barack Obama

 

The ability to code or write software/computer programs is one of the most important skills of the 21st century. It helps people to be creators of technology rather than being mere consumers. From apps to e-commerce websites to news portals, everything that we see and consume online are developed by web developers.

Coding or programming is essentially automating workflow so that you can save time, energy and efforts. You can write a code and control how the hardware will react. For instance, blink an LED for 5 seconds. The code for this can be written on the programming platform, Arduino.

web development

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the demand for web developers will grow by 13 percent from 2018-2024. But to fit into the ever-growing job market, let’s look at the skills required for you to take your career forward.

As we move towards an increasingly tech-driven future, web development is forever evolving. Therefore, it is even more imperative to stay updated with the latest developments in the field, whether they are programming languages, frameworks or latest technology.

 

UX/UI design:

UI/UX

 

“The best products do 2 things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to your product. Details are what keep them there.”

— Nick Babich, developer, tech enthusiast, and UX lover

 

The above quote pretty much sums up the key responsibilities of a user experience/ user interface (UX/UI) designer. Companies today are aware that for a website or app to compete in the cut-throat market, it not only requires an impeccable design along with product functionality, but also a flawless user experience customized to people’s requirements. Therefore, organizations require competent professionals to build human-centric platforms and experiences.

This has made UX design as one of the most in-demand skills and the fastest growing. LinkedIn Learning has listed UX design as one of the most sought-after skills for 2020. Let’s take a look at the skills required if you want to make a move in this field:

With top companies like Microsoft, Adobe, IBM and Adidas among others always looking out to hire UI/UX professionals, it remains one of the most in-demand sectors. As we get more comfortable with IoT and AI-based devices, the way we look at UI/UX will change completely in the future.

 

Robotics:

robotics

Our grandparents/parents must have grown up watching Rosie the robot maid in the animated sitcom, The Jetsons, and wished that they had one too to do all the household chores. What was earlier a dream is now a reality for us, as robots are making our lives much easier. From cleaning floors to entertaining our children; keeping a tab on our schedules to cleaning pools; trimming lawns to carrying your stuff around, robots are here to stay.

Robots have been there as early as the mid-20th century, but it was in 1961 when Joseph F. Engelberger and George Devol came up with the Unimate, the first industrial robot — a two-tonne robotic arm, which was programmable and hydraulically driven — used for automated die-casting. Since then it has gained momentum and now it is used across industries from manufacturing to logistics; healthcare to travel.

 

robotics

 Markets and Markets report suggests that the service robotics market is expected to increase from $37 billion in 2020 to $102.5 billion by 2025; it is projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22.6 percent from 2020 to 2025.

Given this growth projection, the demand for professionals with the right skills are also going up. According to the Linkedin 2020 Annual Emerging Jobs report, the robotics industry reported a 40 percent annual growth rate.

So, what are the required skills for a roboticist or a robotic engineer? Here’s a lowdown:

Skilled professionals are in huge demand from top industries on the lines of industrial automation, information technology and services, computer software, automotive, financial services and those with the right skill set will be at an advantage.

 

Internet of things:

internet of things

 

“The Internet of Things is transforming the everyday physical objects that surround us into an ecosystem of information that will enrich our lives. From refrigerators to parking spaces to houses, the Internet of Things is bringing more and more things into the digital fold every day, which will likely make the Internet of Things a multi-trillion dollar industry in the near future.”

–PricewaterhouseCoopers report

 

As the IoT invades into our day-to-day lives in the form of smart watches that can monitor our health, or internet-enabled home entertainment system, or a smartphone app-connected light bulb, its presence in our lives are all-pervading.

On a bigger scale, industries and manufacturing companies continue to use IoT for maintenance and tracking, supply chain, energy consumption, shipping and logistics, regulatory compliance, smart city projects, oil and gas, retail and insurance among others.

McKinsey’s Global Institute projects that by 2025, the IoT will have an economic impact of up to $11 trillion.

And as adoption of IoT across industries grows, we have seen a huge demand from tech giants for professionals with IoT skills. Let’s get a lowdown of the most in-demand skill sets required to advance your career in this sector:

As we see the intriguing applications of IoT today, the future looks promising. With all the projections and the ongoing work, IoT will definitely make our lives much more efficient and easier.

 

Data science:

data science

 

“I foresee the next wave of revenue growth in corporate America will come directly from Data Science.”

— Ken Poirot, author, entrepreneur

 

In the age of big data, data science has increasingly found its way into our lives as everything today is data driven. From healthcare to finance; media to manufacturing; logistics to sports, data science helps us make sense of the big sets of data with its incredible new insights and information.

One of the perfect examples of its application could be taken from the 2011 biopic, Moneyball. How Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) transformed the entire selection process just through the insights he got through data science and brought about the best winning streaks to the team.

From helping tackle traffic by optimizing routes to identifying and predicting illnesses, its applications are limitless, and as its success stories resonate with industries and companies, they are leaving no stone unturned to reap its benefits.

As government and tech giants continue to look for skilled data science professionals, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2026 the requirement for data science skills will propel a 27.9 percent increase in employment in the field.

 

“To close the gap, workforce development and higher education must look beyond the data scientist to develop talent for a variety of roles, such as data engineer, data governance and lifecycle and data privacy and security specialist, and data product developer. Data democratization impacts every career path, so academia must strive to make data literacy an option, if not a requirement, for every student in any field of study.”

–IBM in The Quant Crunch

 

However, you need certain skills for a career in data science. Let’s look at them:

Professionals in this field are required in every sector, not in technology alone. And now when sectors from healthcare to education, government to e-commerce, media to customer service are leveraging data science, the impact of AI in our lives cannot be ignored.

 

Machine learning:

machine learning

As the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, machine learning has been invaluable to scientists all across to help track and predict the risks of the virus. If we were to look at the uses of machine learning, we would be amazed at what this futuristic tech has given us so far.

From self driving cars to medical diagnosis; practical speech recognition to face detection in an image; chatbots to predictive analysis; Siri to Alexa; effective web search to better mastery of the human genome.

Also, how do you think Netflix and Amazon suggest what to watch next? They use machine learning to understand your tastes and based on other users’ history with similar viewing patterns, recommend you accordingly.

Widespread usage of machine learning in all industries is endless. Likewise, demand for workers in this sector is only increasing by the day, as tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon among others continue to look for skilled professionals. Here are some of the skills that you need to master in order to advance your career in machine learning.

According to Markets and Markets, by 2022 machine learning market is expected to reach a growth of $8.81 billion. And as top companies continue to use machine learning-driven solutions to enhance ROI or customer experience or to get an edge in their business, it will not be far when even small players will follow suit.

 

Artificial intelligence:

artificial intelligence

 

“We see incredible opportunity to solve some of the biggest social challenges we have by combining high performance computing and AI – such as climate change and more.”

— Lisa su, Taiwanese-American business executive and electrical engineer

 

As artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly growing beyond the tech industry, today we see that it has penetrated into education, hardware and networking, healthcare, design, consumer goods, finance, retail, wellness and fitness, real estate, energy and mining, software and IT services, manufacturing, entertainment, corporate services, transportation and logistics and beyond.

workload to be reduced by AI

Gartner has predicted that by 2024, 69 percent of the managers’ routine workload will be reduced by AI and emerging technologies. However, to harness the power of AI, we require skilled professionals who are able to leverage this technology.

With top companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Samsung, Adobe and NVIDIA to name a few always looking for AI talent, let’s look at the most in-demand AI skills:

AI might be synonymous to job automation for some, but it is also ubiquitous in our daily lives. We cannot ignore our virtual assistants Alexa or Siri or the vacuum bot, Roomba, as they help automate the little chores in our lives.

 

Cloud Computing:

The  PCMag Encyclopedia  elucidates cloud computing as “hardware and software services from a provider on the internet (the “cloud”).” Think Apple iCloud or Google Cloud where you can access your pictures, documents, videos, contacts on the go. Other popular examples of cloud computing include Amazon Web Services, Dropbox, Azure, Slack etc.

As almost all companies today depend on cloud solutions for their businesses, Gartner in its 2019 forecast revealed “worldwide public cloud revenue is set to grow by 17 percent in 2020 to a total of $266.4 billion up from $227.8 billion in 2019.” And according to Markets and Markets, by 2023, the industry worth is expected to be $623.3 billion.

With widespread adoption, comes the demand for skilled cloud computing professionals. So, what are the prerequisite skills? Let’s take a look:

The market for cloud computing continues to thrive as companies are understanding its benefits and cost-effectiveness. According to Gartner, by 2021 most of the enterprises that use cloud today will be adopting an all-in cloud policy. This is indeed a good news for professionals who want to grow their career in cloud computing.

 

Blockchain:

blockchain

When Satoshi Nakamoto invented this technology in 2008, nobody thought that by 2020 this would be one of the most sought-after skills by tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and Facebook to name a few.

In over a decade, this technology, which was initially conceived for the digital currency Bitcoin, has made significant headway and how. Besides being used across finance, food industries, healthcare, proponents are also using this technology as a secure and cost-effective way to track transactions and shipments, identity management, crowdfunding, digital voting, file storage among others.

A  Gartner forecast  published in 2017 indicates that by 2030 the business value of blockchain will be $3.1 trillion. Given the prediction, the demand for people with blockchain skills across the US, the UK, France, Australia and Germany has skyrocketed. But one cannot get into the field unless he/she has the following prerequisite skills:

As the likes of Walmart, Mastercard and FedEx to name a few continue to invest in blockchain, smaller companies are likely to adopt the technology and focus on solutions or develop applications that this technology can provide.

 

Quantum computing:

quantum computing

According to Udemy’s  2020 Workplace Learning Trends Reports,  quantum computing is one of the top emerging tech skills of the 21st century. But what exactly is quantum computing? To know what quantum computing is, we need to understand quantum computers.

 

MIT Technology Review defines quantum computers as:

“A quantum computer harnesses some of the almost-mystical phenomena of quantum mechanics to deliver huge leaps forward in processing power. Quantum machines promise to outstrip even the most capable of today’s—and tomorrow’s—supercomputers…The secret to a quantum computer’s power lies in its ability to generate and manipulate quantum bits, or qubits”

 

Given quantum computer’s advanced processing powers than the conventional machines, the technology could propel new discoveries in various industries from advanced manufacturing to cybersecurity; finance to pharmaceuticals research; telecommunications to climate change; military affairs to aerospace designing; artificial intelligence to machine learning techniques to diagnose diseases and so on. Its ability to process complex and extensive datasets efficiently could transform industries.

Big companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM, Intel, HP, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi among others are already working and experimenting with this technology. For instance, Volkswagen has come up with a service that evaluates the best routes for taxis and buses to reduce traffic snarls. Likewise, Airbus is also using this technology to calculate the most fuel-efficient take-off and landing routes for aircraft.

Daimler AG and IBM are also working together to develop cheaper, powerful and long-lasting lithium sulfur (Li-S) batteries that would help speed-up in charging electric vehicles. Pharmaceutical companies are no less behind in leveraging this technology to create new drugs.

According to MIT Technology Review, businesses or companies working on quantum computing are facing a huge shortage of skilled professionals in the field. But the good news is that the National Quantum Initiative Act, gives the United States a plan to support research and training in quantum information science. Apart from advancing quantum technology, the initiative will help professional engineers to move forward in their careers in quantum computing

Let’s take a look at some of the essential skills required to get into this field:

Quantum computing might be at its nascent stage, but in a decade or so it will disrupt the methods used today and bring incredible solutions to unsolvable issues.

 

Conclusion:

conclusion

To help bridge the skill-set gap, of course, academia alone cannot play a pivotal role. Though some tech giants are still looking up at educational institutions and relying on them to train students with required tech skill sets, given the ever-evolving technologies, new roles and skill requirements, companies must also take charge and reskill the workforce. They can come up with their own courseware to reskill employees.

With online learning platforms like Coursera, Linda, Udemy among others offering specializations, certifications and professional courses, some companies are collaborating with these online platforms to help upskill their employees.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2022 over 50 percent of all employees across industries will need to be reskilled. Given this trend, the need of the hour is shared responsibility. So, apart from academia and industry, it is also upon us to maximize our value by pursuing skills that are in demand. The world is at our fingertips, after all.

Do you think we have missed out on other important 21st century deep tech skills? Do let us know in the comments below.

 

When remote learning is the new normal during this Covid 19 pandemic, parents and teachers all across are scrambling to make do with whatever resources they have despite the challenges.

 
Remote Learning 

Rebecca’s phone beeped when she was doing the rounds of her patients at the hospital. Finally, when she got the time to skim through her messages, she noticed one message was from her three-year-old son, Fabian’s, class teacher. It was a home assignment for the little one till the home confinement lasts.

Yes, when schools across the globe have been shut because of the Covid 19 pandemic and remote learning is the new normal, teachers/ educators/parents across the country are looking for ways to keep their students/children engaged and focussed with whatever relevant resources they have in hand. Not to mention limiting their screen time simultaneously

These are unprecedented times for all of us as we scramble to set up virtual classrooms for our children/ students and work desks for ourselves. To add to our woes, problems are plenty: From no internet connectivity to tech challenges and added workload to deal with.

For Rebecca, getting on with her son’s assignments is not a problem because it just entails identifying animals and birds or simple coloring with crayons. But everyone is not that lucky. Especially, for teachers and parents dealing with higher grades.

 

 

Everyone is fighting their own battles

“I am having a difficult time coming up with lesson plans for remote learning. Many of the students that I serve do not have the internet connection. They are not able to get online for their learning,”

says Amanda Huntley, who teachers science from grades 3-5 in Oklahoma.

“I teach biology and environmental science. But in my area students do not have devices or internet/cell connectivity. We have been asked to give them assignments every two weeks that does not require a textbook, computer or printer. I am totally bereft of ideas,”

laments Theodore Marie from Montana.

While Susan Ashley, a technology teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, complains of “tech problems and assignment upload issues”, she adds: “Sometimes the platforms are not able to handle the amount of users during peak hours.”

There are also teachers who are feeling overwhelmed with online teaching. Linda Jones, who is an English teacher in New Jersey, says:

“For a tech-challenged person like me, this entire process is so challenging and intimidating.”

When teachers are struggling with their own set of problems, students are fighting their own battle. From complaints about being swamped with assignments and deadlines from their teachers to sharing laptops with siblings or taking turns for their school work, children are no less stressed out. Some children told us that they have to sign in for their virtual classes from 8 am to 3 pm. And we talk about limiting their screen time!

 

9.4 million students without internet access

However, there is an entirely different situation for students from low income households. Without the internet connection at home, education has taken a backseat. A recent Education Department statistics revealed that 14% of children, amounting to about 9.4 million, within the age group of 3-18 years, do not have access to the internet at home.

Several educators in Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington have come forward in saying that the digital divide has left them disadvantaged and disconnected. Though some schools have started distributing paper packets of assignments, collecting from a distribution tent can be challenging for some students.

Meanwhile, school districts are scrambling to get their acts together and ensuring that online classes continue without any glitches. In New York City, which boasts the country’s largest school district, the Department of Education (DOE) is working closely with mobile telecommunications and a technology company to provide internet-enabled devices for about 3000,000 needy students. This effort by the DOE administrators is worth the applause, especially when the NY State has taken the worst hit by Covid-19.

While in the second largest school district, Los Angeles, schools are using their emergency funds and working closely with a telecommunication conglomerate to ensure that all 600,000 students get their internet-enabled devices.

Most of the other school districts are fighting it out alone and struggling to use their existing infrastructure. Everyone seems to be working on providing solutions and easing the impact of school closures.

It’s true that several companies are turning Good Samaritans and coming forward to help parents and teachers alike in these difficult times. Most of them are offering free subscriptions for at least 3 months keeping in mind the present scenario. And yes, educators and parents are now dealing with another problem- Problem of Plenty. When every startup or big corporation is trying to add more subscribers to their platforms, the choices of what and what not become a harder one.

 

Children’s safety is paramount

It is also critical that we provide our children with relevant resources that sync with or boost their core curriculum. What is more important while selecting resources for our children/students is to keep in mind the best practices for their safety and privacy. Yes, we have to be careful of online resources that collect information or data about children

A recent point in case is New York City banning teachers from using Zoom for virtual teaching citing privacy and safety concerns. There are several cities now following suit in banning Zoom for remote learning.

Similarly, we have also been flooded with messages from teachers, who want to use Mand Labs Academy, asking us whether or not we have such safety and privacy in place. As a small organization that cares, we are very strict about privacy protection and do everything “necessary” to enforce it.

To assure all our users, Mand Labs Academy was built to help children learn physics/ electronics remotely without fearing about their safety or privacy. Our program was specifically built for children/schools using Google App. We let children log in using their school/Google accounts. The only information that our system administrator sees on the backend are username (system generated), school name and user email address.

The email is the unique identifier on the system. No additional information is required or mandatory to use the platform. The user has complete control over his/her privacy settings, as he/she is able to control the information/content shared. For instance, based on what they want they can make their documents, posts, projects private/public or shown only in the user’s private group.

 

What is Mand Labs Academy?

Mand Labs Academy is an interactive e-learning platform for project-based learning in electronics and physics. Learners can take our master course, work on hands-on projects, take quizzes, build their problems-solving skills, showcase their project creations to the community, network with other makers and seek technical support from our engineers.

Suited for classrooms, homeschoolers and personalized learning, it also enables educators and schools to create and manage their student groups. It is compatible with AP physics, SAT physics and IGCSE Tests.

We are enabling free-user accounts on Mand Labs Academy for teachers/parents interested in teaching/learning physics/ electronics remotely. All you have to do is register and send us a list of your students/children so that we can grant them permission from our backend to use the Grand Master Plan with access to the master course, quizzes, projects and your school’s group

We know that right now accessing Mand Labs KIT-1 for each and every student is not possible, therefore we have come up with a document containing how-to videos for creating circuit simulations. Yes, our free Electricity Tutorials for virtual classrooms are also available. It is a work in progress, as our team is working tirelessly to bring more content to you.

In conclusion, we would like to say that while we are still adjusting to this new way of teaching and learning from home, we need to ponder over the following quote that is trending over the internet.

“There is no academic emergency right now, so don’t be so quick to set-up a homeschool. Our country is in a crisis, and we are all stressed and tired. Stressed adults cannot teach stressed children. It is a neuro-biological impossibility. Try focussing on connections and feelings of safety.”

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