Big Ideas on Campus
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This original OZY series invites you to learn from leading profs whose work is changing our world.
From artificial intelligence to bioprocess engineering, from Cambridge to Cape Town, academics are pushing past the boundaries of what we believe is possible. For this original series, OZY profiles four professors — and one postdoc — to share their astonishing achievements and explain how their work could have huge consequences for our everyday lives, far from the ivory tower.
Ozgur Sinanoglu dares hackers to break into his next generation chip. Associate dean of engineering and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at New York University Abu Dhabi, Sinanoglu claims to have found a way to create an “unhackable” electronic chip that could potentially be used in phones, cars and computers. His research at the university’s Center for Cyber Security is being funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Defense. “We take smart devices for granted but can we really trust them?” he asks. With an improved design unveiled at the end of 2018, this professor hopes to offer a trustworthy chip that can fend off threats of piracy, manipulation and reverse engineering.
AI-driven predictive modeling is increasingly used in the commercial space: algorithms tell us who to date, match people with drivers to get from point A to B, adjust traffic routes in real time or feed us targeted advertising banners. But Eric Rice — a professor at USC’s school of social work and co-founder of the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society — is using AI in an uncharted space: to help homeless youth. Rice is spearheading the development of predictive models that deploy interventions for public health problems. Just as ride-sharing apps match riders and drivers in changing traffic flow to maximize the system’s efficiency, these algorithms serve as intermediaries to effectively connect interventions with target populations.
Tyler Clites, the 28-year-old winner of the prestigious Lemelson MIT Student Prize in 2018, will tell you: Yes, bionics and prosthetic devices are great for solving mobility challenges but getting the mind to work with these foreign devices is an entirely different problem. Clites’ goal is nothing short of audacious: He wants to build bionic prostheses and create a neural interface between robot and human so the two can work together. To do so will require an entirely new approach to surgical amputation, the first of its kind to target proprioception — a fancy word for our ability to sense our body parts in space. While traditional amputation disrupts proprioception, Clites’ approach preserves it.
Cape Town is running out of water, and fast. To help avert disaster, UCT, Africa’s top university, recently launched Future Water, a state-of-the-art research center dedicated to tackling the problem of water scarcity. A project to create fertilizer and constructions bricks from urine is grabbing all the headlines, but the work of the center’s director, Sue Harrison, may actually be more impactful. With 30 years’ experience in bioprocess engineering, Harrison is focused on water treatment, water re-use and valorisation of wastewater.
A former child prodigy, Colin Camerer received his B.A. in quantitative studies from Johns Hopkins University at age 17, followed by an M.B.A. in finance and a Ph.D. in behavioral decision theory from the University of Chicago by the time he was 21. Today he’s a professor of behavioral finance and economics at Caltech and the leader in the burgeoning field of neuroeconomics. The most exciting recent advances in the field of economics have been in behavioral and evolutionary economics — the rejection of classical assumptions of rationality. Camerer takes this one step further by pinning economic theory directly to neurological processes.