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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Ravikanth Pappu, 34

Fights credit card forgery with glass-bead “keys”

ThingMagic

WHEN Acredit card company asked the MIT Media Lab to develop a technique to produce card identifiers that, unlike magnetic stripes, would be extremely difficult to forge, graduate student Ravikanth Pappu devised a cheap and simple solution. He embeds hundreds of glass beads into dime- size epoxy tokens. When a laser shines on a token, its beads scatter the light in a unique pattern that can be digitally stored as a fingerprint or “key.” Retailers could use readers to check patterns against keys in a secure database. Pappu says there is no known technology that can counterfeit the tokens or their keys. Now a principal at ThingMagic in Cam- bridge, MA, which is developing “embedded intelligence” as well as radio frequency identification technologies, Pappu says credit card companies are calling, interested in building tokens into their cards. The technique could also be used for tamper-resistant packaging, or to create identifiers for computer chips. According to Neil Gershenfeld, Pappu’s MIT advisor, cryptographers are often very critical of new ideas, but they have “welcomed this new approach.”

2003 TR35 Winners

Scott Backhaus

Invented a novel, high-efficiency engine powered by sound waves

Zhenan Bao

Fabricates organic semiconductors used in flexible and cheap electronic devices

Marcela Bilek

Designs coatings to improve implanted medical devices and industrial tools

Daniel Bond

Turns sea muck into fuel cell power plants

Michael Bowman

Builds microturbines that could become the power plant of choice in many settings

Colin Bulthaup

Developed new fabrication methods that could slash the cost of chip manufacturing

Karen Burg

Engineered a minimally invasive process to rebuild tissue for breast cancer survivors

Xiangfeng Duan

Transforms nanowires into incredibly small transistors for powerful, flexible computers

Stephen Empedocles

Formulates business strategy for one of nanotechs leading startups

Vladislav Gavrilets

Designs flight control technology that could lead to unmanned autonomous helicopters

Scott Gaynor

Devises processes used to make polymers with improved properties

Cary Gunn

Shrinks optical circuitry to speed transmissions on phone and Internet networks

Yu Huang

Fashions three-dimensional grids of nanowires that act as electronic circuits

Jordan Katrine

Makes higher-density hard drives using magnetic nanomaterials

Krishna Kumar

Improves the stability and effectiveness of protein-based drugs

David M. Lynn

Synthesizes polymers that are better able to deliver therapeutic genes

David A. Muller

Images the individual atom that are critical to a transistors electronic properties

Yasunobu Nakamura

Achieved a breakthrough that could help make quantum computing a reality

Balaji Narasimhan

Devises time-release polymers to replace multiple vaccine injections

Ravikanth Pappu

Fights credit card forgery with glass-bead “keys”

Ainissa G. Ramirez

Formulated an advanced universal solder for electronics and optics

Christian Rehtanz

Adds smarts to high-voltage power lines so they can deliver more electricity

Manfred Stefener

Constructs small fuel cells to efficiently power laptop computers

Claire Tomlin

Writes software that could alleviate air congestion and lead to far fewer delays at airports

Stephen Turner

Built a tiny device that greatly speeds up DNA sequencing

S. Travis Waller

Writes algorithms that determine why traffic jams form and how to ease them

Ralf Wehrspohn

Fabricates nanotube crystals that can route optical telecommunications signals faster than competing chips

Peidong Yang

Assembles nanowires that could revolutionize lasers and computers

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