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Ramesh Agarwal
Saturday, January 1, 2000

I was born in Gwalior, the only brother to four sisters. My father was keen that I become a doctor but I had no interest in biology, although I rather enjoyed mathematics.

I was an average student at school up to the first year of my B.S. program in college. However, the next year, I read a newspaper article that said something to the effect that one can train one's brain cells to perform at a much higher level. This article inspired me, and I resolved to excel academically. I found the theory of training brains cells worked, as I stood first in my second year at college and further improved my standing with my graduation.

IIT Calling

I had heard of these great institutions of learning called the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and decided to appear for the All India Entrance Exam, not knowing exactly what to expect. Except for English, the exams turned out to be fairly easy. I was ranked third in the All India Exam and decided to join the Mechanical Engineering program at IIT Bombay, impressed by the campus and distinguished professors on staff.

After a while, I realized that mechanical engineering was not really my cup of tea. I decided to switch to electrical engineering, a field that fascinated me immensely, eventually being the first EE graduate to get a gold medal.

Distant Shores and Family Ties

I decided to pursue my masters at Rice University with a thesis in the area of information theory. Planning to return in fall to begin the doctoral program, I traveled home to India for my summer vacation,when my father fell seriously ill and passed away. I felt it was my duty to be with my family during this time and joined IIT Delhi as an associate professor, although soon it become clear that getting a Ph.D. was very important -- and the most efficient way to it was to attend Rice.

I returned to Rice after over a year in India and pursued a Ph.D. program in the area of Digital Signal Processing. I was given the Best Paper Award (1974) by the Signal Processing Society of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), for my doctoral papers published in their transactions.

IBM Impresses

I then interviewed with several companies, and was particularly impressed by IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center at Yorktown Heights, NY. At IBM, I was interviewed by, among others, Dr. Dick Garwin, an IBM Fellow and an eminent nuclear physicist with a major role in US nuclear weapons policy. He offered me a post-doctorate position.

At about that time, also visiting Watson was Dr. Neil Isaacs. He was working to determine the three-dimensional molecular structure of insulin, using X-ray diffraction data. Now, this was a totally new area for me; I knew nothing about proteins and molecular structures. However, the underlying mathematical problem appeared to be very interesting and I decided to look deeper into it.

My work reduced computing times 50- to 100-fold over conventional methods and made it possible to refine large protein molecules. My method is still being used in various laboratories around the world.

Tragedy Strikes

Family circumstances again compelled me to return to India in 1977, along with my wife. I once again joined IIT Delhi as an associate professor and, though life was peaceful and happy with the birth of our son, I hardly made any progress in my research career while at IITD.

In January 1981, I was riding my two-wheeler with my wife and son when we were run over by a car that had apparently lost control. My son came out unscathed from this accident but my wife did not survive and I lost my right leg.

After coming to terms with this tragedy, I realized that it would be impossible to ride a scooter with one leg, and a car was way beyond my budget. Since I was not making any progress with my research studies too, I decided to return to Watson Research.

The Kennedy Assassination Case

I started my second stint at Watson working again for Dick Garwin who asked me to look into a very interesting problem.

Based on some acoustics evidence, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had concluded that there was a high probability that two gunmen fired on President Kennedy. The National Academy of Sciences formed a team of acoustics experts (including Garwin), to examine the acoustic evidence. At the request of Dr. Garwin, I joined the investigation. Our committee devoted more than a year studying the audio recordings and reached our conclusions.

Based on my observations, the committee was able to conclude that the recordings containing the so called "shots" were made about a minute after the assassination. This basically brought the entire Kennedy Assassination investigation to an end.

Appointed IBM Fellow

In 1997, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner appointed me an IBM Fellow, the highest technical recognition given by IBM. Currently, there are approximately 50 IBM fellows worldwide. These appointments are made "in recognition of their distinguished and sustained technical achievements in engineering, programming, science, and technology." IBM Fellows are given freedom to select and pursue work in the areas of their interest. This was definitely the high point of my career.

Current Research

During my research career, I have published about 100 papers, received about a dozen patents, and several awards. My current research activities are in the areas of databases, data mining, and computational biology.

In the area of data mining, I have developed association algorithms that are an order of magnitude faster. I am also involved in developing more accurate classification algorithms.

I am really excited about the "gene expression" problem in computational biology.

I am working on efficient computational algorithms to unravel these associations buried in large databases. Its implications are very exciting to me.

I live in a sparsely populated suburb in northern Westchester with my wife who is a home maker and have three sons, Anit, Sumit and Vinit.

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