Cornell Professor Awarded Prestigious Grant

September 29, 2010 12:00 am0 comments
Brendan Doyle

Prof. Michal Lipson, electrical and computer engineering, has received one of 23 prestigious grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. As a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, Lipson will receive $500,000, to use however she sees fits, over the next five years.

The award for Lipson was a “shock,” culminating more than nine years of groundbreaking work in computer efficiency.

Lipson is a founding pioneer of the field of silicon photonics, which involves using light beams to replace electric currents on computer silicon chips. Her precise research on how to guide and split the light across computer chips in extremely small proportions has led the field in improving the speed and power-efficiency of computers. However, her research has not always been lauded for its usefulness. Indeed, when she first started out exploring light in computer chips, her work was seen as everything from risky to downright useless.

“At first, I did not realize how revolutionary it was,” Lipson said of her research when she began nine years ago. “When you start a career, you can very easily be naive at first.”

Eventually, the enormous potential of her work began to show itself in her data and research findings.

“It became clear that this was pretty unconventional when the first results came up,” Lipson said. “To my surprise, people were surprised that I was working on this.”

Lipson’s research has since uncovered ways to increase bandwidth and computer speed, with major computer companies such as IBM and Dell.

“This field is getting more and more adopted by industry,” Lipson said.

Lipson noted that the most common question recently for her has been how she intends to spend the grant money. While she does not have her budget worked out completely, she intends to use it to further her work.

“They’re giving us complete freedom, so I plan to use it for things that I normally would not be able to get funded,” Lipson said.