Three researchers named among top-100 young innovators by MIT magazine

    The Technology Review magazine, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has named three members of the UCSD community to its 2004 list of the world’s top-100 young innovators.

    Selected from a pool of about 500 nominations, chemistry graduate student Jamie Link, postdoctoral pharmacology researcher Lei Wang and assistant professor of computer science Serge Belongie received the honor for their contributions to science and technology.

    “For UCSD to have three individuals represented in this prestigious list is a testament to our university’s strength in science and technology, as well as our ability to produce the innovators of the future,” Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said in a university statement.

    At 26, Link was the youngest individual of the year and also one of 31 women who made the list. Link said access to research was key to encouraging more women to participate in technical fields.

    “The earlier women are exposed to lab research, the more excited they’ll become about it,” Link said. “People should try to get research experience as early as possible.”

    Wang’s research focused on genetic engineering, and he has developed a method of changing the amino-acid makeup of live cells. His work, most of which he completed at UC Berkeley and the Scripps Research Institute, will help scientists to understand the evolution of the genetic code and to design better drugs.

    “[Our method] enables scientists to address fundamental questions in evolution, to analyze protein and cellular functions and to engineer proteins in ways that were impossible before,” Wang said. “We are using this approach to better understand disease mechanisms and to make the next generation of protein drugs with enhanced efficiency.”

    As an undergraduate student at the California Institute of Technology, Belongie developed new computer-based techniques for conducting fingerprint analysis. Currently, he is applying computer-vision techniques to monitor the health of lab animals. Funded by the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Cal-IT2), this “smart vivarium” animal laboratory project could lead to new medical technologies.

    “The goal of the smart vivarium project is to equip the cages of lab animals with cameras and other sensors to provide continuous monitoring of animal behavior,” Belongie said. “This will result in an improved life history for the animals used in medical research and will make new scientific discoveries possible.”

    Belongie joined the faculty of Jacobs School of Engineering in 2001 after co-founding Digital Persona, a leading company that specializes in computer-based fingerprint authentication.

    “By going after top-notch young faculty and offering faculty and students the chance to work on important research projects, UCSD, the Jacobs School of Engineering and Cal-IT2 are all laying the foundation for future successes and distinctions for young — as well as senior — researchers here,” UCSD spokesman Doug Ramsey said.

    An elite panel of judges, which included senior-level executives from Cambridge University and top technology companies like IBM and Hewlett-Packard, selected the finalists included on this year’s list. Seventy-seven of the winners are based in the United States, and 24 are from California.

    “My mom passed along the news to all my relatives in Argentina, and the flood of e-mail I’ve gotten from them since then has made me feel like a celebrity,” Belongie said. “My hope is that this award will increase my visibility and lead to more opportunities for research collaborations and funding.”

    Belongie, Link and Wang were recognized for their achievements at Technology Review’s Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT on Sept. 29 and Sept. 30.

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