Space Deliveries to Nanotube Transistors to RNA Molecules: Hertz Fellows Make News

November 1, 2013

Hertz Fellows are making news with extraordinary advances in their fields. Recent accomplishments range from delivering satellites to the International Space Station to designing a computer using carbon nanotube transistors to studying how RNA molecules fold inside cells. The following six Fellows represent vivid examples of the world changing impact of over 1,100 Hertz Fellowships.

On September 29th, Orbital Sciences saw its Cygnus cargo spacecraft successfully berthed at the International Space Station. David Thompson, Hertz Fellow 1977, is Co-Founder, President and CEO of Orbital Sciences Corporation. The feat brought two spacecraft together while both were hurtling through space at speeds of over 18,000 miles per hour. Cygnus will deliver cargo every three to six months completing its NASA contract. Orbital Sciences is one of only two commercial space companies working with NASA in this capacity.

Max Shulaker, Hertz Fellow 2011, built the first working computer made entirely of carbon nanotube transistors. Max leads the Stanford University research group and describes this work recently published in the journal Nature. Though difficult to engineer, carbon nanotubes hold promise for smaller, faster, low-power and low-cost computing. Max and his colleagues steadily progressed from building individual carbon nanotube transistors to electronic circuits, to what is now a complete working computer.

Vyas Ramanan, Hertz Fellow 2012, helped engineer an unmanned aerial vehicle that will deliver vaccines to health care workers in some of the remote areas of developing countries. Vyas and his team of graduate students at the Harvard-MIT program in Health Sciences and Technology recognized a critical need to improve vaccine delivery to hard-to-reach locations. To further this work, Vyas and the team have won $100K, Round 8 Global Challenges Exploration Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ed Boyden, Hertz Fellow 1999, won two awards from the National Institutes of Health, including the “Pioneer Award” and “Transformative Research Award,” given for pioneering and radical new ways to confront biomedical problems. Ed’s “optogenetics” research allows genetically specified neurons to be turned on or off with light, to better understand neural circuitry, and treat brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Ed shared the Lundbeck Brain prize, the largest neuroscience prize in the world, for this work. He was recently named by the World Economic Forum among 40 young scientists whose work is improving the world.

Julius Lucks, Hertz Fellow 2001, joins Ed Boyden as an NIH grant winner. The “New Innovator Award” will support his studies of the dynamic functional states of RNAs across the genome, and how RNA molecules fold inside cells. According to Lucks, RNA is “life’s master molecule.” It stores and encodes information like DNA and it has a more complex function like that of protein. RNA is critical to life’s most basic processes and it plays a huge role in regulating, maintaining and defending the genomes of all organisms.

Andy Huibers, Hertz Fellow 1992, is Co-Founder of Bump Technologies. Just acquired by Google, the company makes file-sharing tools that allow two smartphone users to physically bump their phones together to transfer contact information, photos and files over the Internet. Bump is the eighth most popular free app of all time, free to download for Android and iPhone users. It was the billionth download on Apple’s app store. Its functional simplicity is supported by complex innovations in math, data processing and algorithms.

“We are constantly amazed by the Hertz Fellows,” said Hertz Foundation President, Jay Davis. “These six newsmakers typify what it is to be a Hertz Fellow. They join the community of the best and brightest who produce advances in science, medicine, technology, business, academia and government. Hertz Fellows go beyond ‘book smarts’ to exhibit an exceptional personal creativity and great promise for innovative research. Their creativity and risk-taking deliver innovation for our nation’s technical and economic security. We seek to find additional investors to help us to double the number of Fellows chosen each year.”


by Jan Odell