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

Credit: Tommmy Lavergne/Rice University

Farinaz Koushanfar, 32

Locking microchips to prevent piracy

Rice University

PROBLEM: High-tech piracy isn't limited to illegal downloads and knockoff DVDs: there are growing, multibillion-dollar gray and black markets for the microchips that run everything from video players to high-end weapons. Unscrupulous employees in overseas foundries that produce chips for other companies can divert extra chips, made for pennies, and resell them.

SOLUTION: Farinaz Koushanfa­r, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has developed a way to foil hardware pirates using tiny physical variations between circuit elements on a chip--variations produced normally in the chip-manufacturing process. As small as a stray atom or two, the variations cause identical signals traveling to two such elements to arrive a few trillionths of a second apart; each chip contains hundreds of these pairs. For each pair, Koushanfar designates the first signal to arrive as a 0 and the second as a 1, creating an ID code unique to each chip. When a buyer first uses the chip, it transmits its ID to its designer over the Internet. The designer sends back a corresponding "unlock" code that makes the chip usable. Koushanfa­r has created prototypes of the coded chips, and several chip makers have expressed interest in the technology. --Neil Savage

2008 TR35 Winners

Blaise Agüera y Arcas

Building immersive 3-D environments

Dries Buytaert (video)

Simple, flexible Web publishing

Jenova Chen (video)

Gaming with the flow

Tanzeem Choudhury (video)

Inferring social networks automatically

Jack Dorsey (video)

Personal updates made simple

Stefanus Du Toit (video)

Programming for parallel processors

Seth Hallem

Deconstructing software to find bugs

Xian-Sheng Hua

Enhancing video search

Sundar Iyer

Making memory at Internet speed

Farinaz Koushanfar

Locking microchips to prevent piracy

Johnny Lee (video)

Streamlining human-computer interactions

Meredith Ringel Morris (video)

Searching websites jointly

Andrew Ng

Building household robots

Adam Smith (video)

Making sense of e-mail madness

JB Straubel (video)

Engineering electric sports cars

Eric Wilhelm (video)

Putting DIY projects online

Robert Wood (video)

Building robotic flies


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