Technology Review's 2012 TR35 includes two EECS graduates: Drew Houston and Baile Zhang


Since 1999, Technology Review, has selected top innovators under age 35 based on the impact of their creations. Included in this year's crop of stellar innovators are two EECS graduates: Drew Houston, the creator and co-founder of Dropbox and Baile Zhang, who has created visibility cloaking that currently works for small objects with the goal for cloaking larger objects.

The 2012 TR35 honorees will come together to discuss their achievements at the EmTech MIT 2012 conference at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge from October 24-26, 2012. All of the TR35 winners for 2012 will be featured in the September/October issue of Technology Review and online at

The Technology Review editors introduce the 2012 members of TR35. "Some members of our latest list of young innovators from around the world have developed consumer Web services you might have used, such as Spotify or Dropbox. Others are making more fundamental breakthroughs that have yet to be commercialized, such as more efficient engines or improvements in optical communications. And a few are blazing trails in fields that didn’t exist before, like pop-up fabrication of tiny machines, or cameras that can see around corners. But all 35 of them have something significant in common: their work is likely to be influential for a very long time. We hope that these stories about them surprise and inspire you."

Drew Houston, 29

Hiding all the complexities of remote file storage behind a small blue box

Drew Houston Course VI-3 alumnus ('05), co-founder (with another EECS alum Arash Ferdowsi) and CEO of Dropbox, created the $4 billion company that hides the intricacies of file storage on any system in the summer of 2007. By fall, they had received $7.2 million from large venture capital firms including Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Y Combinator and several individual donors to allow them to relocate to San Francisco. Not long after, the real sign of success came when they released an instructional video on how to use Dropbox. This went viral on Digg and their beta waiting list went from 5k to 75k users in a few hours. Dropbox is now at about 100 employees and slated to relocate to a larger home (still in San Francisco).

As the TR35 article points out, Houston managed to add "iPhone-like ease and reliability on cloud-based file storage," something which then Apple Founder Steve Jobs had hoped to acquire. Using Dropbox is as easy as a free installation on all your devices and then drag and drop any kind of file to Dropbox's iconic open blue box. All the work behind the scenes to make this experience seamless has been built and tested by the now 150 Dropbox employees. Houston noted to Technology Review author David Talbot, "It sounds like what we do is simple, but sanding down the thousand rough edges to make something work 100 percent of the time is really, really hard."

Read more about Drew Houston, Dropbox founder and now TR35 winner for 2012.

[Photo by Winni Wintermeyer] 

Baile Zhang, named for TR35 2012 for developing new type of invisibility cloak.
Baile Zhang, 31

A new type of invisibility cloak made from a common material can work with large objects

Baile Zhang, MIT EECS PhD graduate ('09) has been more than fascinated by the idea of creating cloaking materials to hide objects such as people or military vehicles from human sight. Zhang, now an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), has developed a preliminary way to achieve optical cloaking using Calcite crystals, which are commonly available in nature. The light is literally bent around the object, rendering it 'invisible'.

As the Technology Review article points out, calcite's crystal structure resembles the sorts of artificial nanoscale patterns that other labs have struggled to fabricate with electron beams.  But this cloaking effect is so small that it cannot be seen by the naked eye.  Although there are limitations to Prof. Zhang's cloaking technique - the medium around the calcite needs to be laser oil (not air or water) to bend the light and so far only a coin has been cloaked - he is currently working towards a new way to allow for cloaking to work in air.

Read more about Baile Zhang in the TR35 article by Katherine Bourzac.

[Illustration by John Ritter]