The Wandering Gadgeteer

From music to engineering to medicine and back again, George Stetten has followed his passion for designing devices

5 min read
Photo of Biomedical engineer George Stetten’s Sonic Flashlight.
Biomedical engineer George Stetten’s Sonic Flashlight (above) lets doctors view ultrasound images directly over the part of a patient’s body that’s being scanned.
Photo: George Stetten

Wouldn't it be nice to have X-ray eyes? That's what George Stetten thought back when he worked as a hospital intern. “I hated putting long needles in people without seeing where I was going," he recalls. A decade later, now working as a biomedical engineer, he finally landed on the solution: the Sonic Flashlight, a handheld imaging device that lets doctors literally see under a patient's skin.

It's just the latest product devised by a man whose passion for “gadgeteering," as he calls it, has taken him down some widely divergent paths. It all began with a broken microphone. Like many a teenage boy growing up in the suburbs, Stetten fancied himself an aspiring rock star. But he also started fixing his own sound equipment and making his own electronic instruments, and that whetted his appetite for invention.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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