Friday, July 13, 2012

Delhi-born Arati makes waves in US defence set-up

New Delhi: New Delhi-born Indian American Arati Prabhakar has been appointed the head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US equivalent of the DRDO, but immensely more powerful and better funded.

Prabhakar went to the US at the age of three and grew up in Texas. She specialised in applied physics, for which she got a PhD from one of America's foremost institutions - Caltech.

DARPA is often called the Pentagon's "mad science" or "blue sky" research agency because it specialises in dealing with futuristic technology which may have applications in defence. In November 2011, for example, it hosted a symposium to get people thinking seriously about interstellar travel.

While it has been responsible for a range of technologies and processes relating to defence applications, it is best known among geeks for developing computer networking, the hypertext system and graphical user interface, things which have made modern computing and the internet a reality. But unlike DRDO, DARPA does not have its own labs, but spends its annual $3 billion-plus budget in funding research and firms which are into technology development.

Prabhakar had worked for DARPA for seven years before the Bill Clinton administration in 1993 appointed her the head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the age of 34. Thereafter, she joined a venture capital firm involved with funding green technology and IT. There is some controversy over the firm, which was also funding Solyndra, a solar energy firm backed by the Obama administration, which collapsed last year.

But US officials say that Prabhakar has been thoroughly vetted for the position and did not have any role to play in the Solyndra deal.

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