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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Q&A: Professor Rahul Sarpeshkar

Rahul Sarpeshkar
Photograph by Karen Endicott.

Rahul Sarpeshkar joined Thayer this year as a tenured full professor. He is also a professor in Dartmouth’s physics department and in Geisel School of Medicine’s microbiology and immunology department and physiology and neurobiology department. He is the inaugural holder of the Thomas E. Kurtz Chair in Dartmouth’s new Neukom Cluster in Computational Science, which will explore the computational and engineering principles of intelligence.

Sarpeshkar earned undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and physics from MIT and a PhD in computation and neural systems from the California Institute of Technology. Prior to coming to Dartmouth he taught at MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

What drew you to Thayer School?
I liked the fact that Thayer is one unified and interdisciplinary school of engineering with superb faculty. I believe that the future of engineering will again be what its past was: a truly integrated renaissance art form. Dean Helble was open and encouraging of my desire to have appointments in schools outside engineering and to build bridges between engineering and these schools, which I found to be very refreshing and enlightened.

Is there a common thread to your various areas of expertise and affiliation?
​Everything I am interested in or do ties back to the unifying and universal language of analog circuits and analog computation: analog circuits within atoms or molecules (quantum computing/biochemistry), analog circuits of molecules within living cells (synthetic biology), or analog circuits of transistors within supercomputing chips or within medical devices (bioengineering).

What are your current research priorities?
​I am focused on applying analog circuits and analog computation to various medical applications, as well as advancing the fundamental science of biological circuit design, which is in its very early stages.

Is there a major challenge you are trying to solve?
The core challenge in all of the problems that I work on is about computing efficiently and robustly with noisy and unreliable parts. The solution to this challenge requires sophisticated feedback loops and error correction as well as collective analog and mixed-signal computation that artfully exploits physics and chemistry to compute. Nature has already solved this challenge, and we need to learn from her.

What courses are you most looking forward to teaching?
​I am excited about originating a course that will unify electronic and biological circuit design through common fundamental physical laws of thermodynamics. I’d like to show students how they can design experimental circuits with transistors that are almost identical to those ​that they build with DNA-protein molecules in actual living cells.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
​I enjoy the friendly, supportive, and highly collegial atmosphere at Thayer, which is amazing at all levels. The beautiful countryside constantly connects me with nature and is calming. My family and I are very happy to be here!

Categories: The Great Hall, Faculty

Tags: engineering in medicine, faculty

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