Engineering the Future at IEEE

IEEE Celebrates 125th Anniversary

Anniversaries are often engulfed by nostalgic memories of past achievements and glory days gone by. Not this one. While commemorating its members’ historic engineering accomplishments over the past 125 years, IEEE’s 125th-anniversary celebrations--going on throughout 2009 around the globe--focus on how today’s engineers are inventing and building technologies that will shape the world’s future over the next 125 years.

Take, for example, the media roundtable IEEE put on in New York City in March to showcase the work of just seven of its members (you can still view the whole presentation at It’s well worth checking out.

First, Katie Hall, an IEEE Senior Member and chief technology officer of WiTricity, talked about a magnetic resonance–based technology her company is developing that can wirelessly transmit power, from milliwatts to kilowatts, to electronic devices meters away. Rangachar Kasturi, an IEEE Fellow and a professor at the University of South Florida, described his team’s work on pattern recognition and its uses in medical image analysis, biometrics, and environmental sensing. K.J. Ray Liu, an IEEE Fellow and a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, discussed the development of predictive cancer testingtests that would be able to identify both patients whose cells are transitioning from normal to cancerous and the type of cancer that’s developing--based on algorithmic analyses of genome-proteome signaling. Dharmendra Modha, an IEEE Senior Member and manager of cognitive computing at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, related his team’s work on SyNAPSE, a project to build a ”brain”--a computer system that can see, feel, and think like a human being.

In another intriguing biomedical engineering development, Miguel Nicolelis, an IEEE Member and professor and codirector of the Center for Neuroengineering at Duke University’s Medical Center, talked about a chip his group has built that allows monkeys to control robots across continents with brain waves. Krishna Palem, an IEEE Fellow and a professor at the George Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, reported on his work on low-energy chip technology. He’s now using it in a low-power, lowâ¿¿cost ”Iâ¿¿Slate” that will give children in impoverished areas--who may have never even seen a teacher--access to learning. Finally, Roy Want, an IEEE Fellow and senior principal engineer at Intel, talked about a mobile solution called dynamic composable computing that could make it possible for you to access any devices or applications you need on the fly--through your cellphone.

Phew! Clayton M. Christensen coined the term disruptive innovation , and if some of these developments don’t turn out to be disruptive I don’t know what will. But then again, sometimes new technologies take their own sweet time to reveal their power and influence. This year’s IEEE Medal of Honor winner, Robert Dennard (see ” Thanks for the Memories,” in this issue), described his own work on one-transistor dynamic RAM like this: ”We just didn’t imagine how far it would go, how much it would totally change computing.”

So if you have students, point them to the roundtable webcast so they can experience the magic of watching people talk passionately about the work they love. If you’re a student, watch the webcast and listen carefully. New fields and new professions will be spun out of the work in power, robotics, computing, and biomedical engineering described therein. You will learn, if you haven’t already, that a universe of opportunities to invent new technologies and make a difference in the world remain wide open to the curious and adventurous willing to take chances and follow their dreams.

To Probe Further

For more information about IEEE’s 125th-anniversary celebrations, go to