Under the aegis of Caltech’s new Center for Sensing to Intelligence (S2I), Gupta Fellows combine theory, algorithms, and sensor technology in pursuit of scientific discovery as well as innovations in sustainability and human health.
“Naren and Vinita Gupta exemplify the kinds of philanthropic partners who enable researchers to do their best work,” says Azita Emami, S2I director. “In addition to providing resources to attract the brightest, most promising engineers, they have instilled in S2I their confidence—and a great sense of adventure. We are grateful to the Guptas for helping to ensure that intrepid curiosity is a driving force for S2I. Their aspirations and excitement inspire us all.”
Naren Gupta, a global technology entrepreneur and an early leader in venture capital investments in India, passed away on December 25, 2021. The founder and managing director of Nexus Venture Partners is remembered by business associates, friends, and community leaders alike for his openness, ingenuity, and enthusiasm—qualities imbued in the Naren and Vinita Gupta Fellowship program. On December 9, 2021, we spoke with the Guptas about the fellowships and S2I.
Why did you choose to invest in Caltech?
Naren Gupta: I came to Caltech in 1969 to go to school, and my first and lasting impression has been Caltech’s focus on excellence. Every time I visit Caltech, I come away 50 percent smarter and 50 percent more energized. As trustees, we work to understand opportunities and challenges present in society, and we discuss how we can help advance research that leads to solutions. It’s compelling to see science and technology evolve in response to what the human race needs.
Vinita Gupta: Caltech is a place where you can think big. This environment has enhanced my thought process and permeated other aspects of my life. Naren and I want to contribute to a culture that inspires people to come up with new ways to think about what is possible.
Naren Gupta: We wanted to do something that has long-term implications beyond one particular area of science or engineering. The whole world of sensing, AI, and data science is transforming in ways that are not well understood by the general population, but it’s very exciting. Caltech has always been at the forefront of designing high-accuracy, high-fidelity instruments, and pursuing fundamental research. S2I is an area where Caltech is uniquely qualified to design a new generation of smart devices and technologies and make discoveries we can’t imagine today.
Vinita Gupta: The research will change and move in different directions, and we are open and excited about that. The fellowship program is designed to encourage work outside of the silos of any particular discipline, because important discoveries are made at the intersections of disciplines. Our role, in a small way, is to help create an atmosphere for undirected collaborations, to allow the research to move in the directions it is meant to go.
Each year, the program will award two-year Gupta Fellowships to five new graduate students working in S2I-related disciplines, ultimately creating a cohort of 10 Gupta Fellows who will have flexibility to explore multiple research areas and work with a variety of faculty to shape their individual academic paths.
Naren Gupta: Support for researchers at all stages is meaningful and essential—including at the undergraduate level, where we are educating the scientists and innovators of the future. But Vinita and I felt that we could make the biggest impact with fellowships. The frontiers of science are constantly changing, and graduate students are a big part of how they evolve.
Big discoveries in science often happen not because researchers are trying to figure out a particular thing, but because they are exploring things that aren’t fully understood. There needs to be room for undirected exploration, and accidents need to happen. I want to support students as they pursue multiple far-out ideas that otherwise would be completely unfundable.
In fall 2021, Caltech appointed the five inaugural Naren and Vinita Gupta Fellows. These students are using the exploratory phase of their doctoral program to investigate a wide variety of research areas, including AI for health, computational vision, nanophotonics, quantum engineering, machine learning and information theory, computer vision and imaging, and circuits and very large-scale integration.
Your gift will support cohorts of Naren and Vinita Gupta Fellows for years to come. What do you look forward to seeing from this community of scholars?
Naren Gupta: We envision a tight-knit community of fellows who can explore different areas of basic science, biology, astronomy, math, data science, and more, together. Our hope is that fellows will feel comfortable and compelled to interact with each other and exchange ideas that aren’t even fully formed, so they get the benefit of one another’s opinions and perspectives. A lot of transformative developments happen when people feel a sense of community.
We’ve read about the first five appointed fellows, and they have very diverse backgrounds and interests. At a very high level, an interest in smart instruments is what everyone will have in common, but they will be exploring many different things.
Vinita Gupta: We are looking forward to meeting the scholars and seeing the program’s success. The fellows are going to cover a lot of ground.
In February 2022, Vinita Gupta provided a follow-up statement: I think it is fitting that the creative force of this community of pioneering scientists and engineers will contribute to Naren’s lasting legacy.
Naren Gupta served on the Board of Trustees’ Nominating and Technology Transfer committees and was a member of Caltech’s Information Science and Technology Advisory Council. He served on the boards of several public and privately held companies and was chairman of the board of the open-source software product company Red Hat, Inc., prior its $34 billion acquisition by IBM. He was elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in 1991.
Vinita Gupta founded Digital Link Corporation in 1985, a company engaged in the design, manufacture, marketing, and support of global network products. Working Woman magazine twice named Digital Link one of the country’s top 500 women-owned businesses. Vinita Gupta served as chair, president, and CEO of the company, which went public in 1994 and was renamed Quick Eagle Networks. She serves on the boards of several research institutes and chaired the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute.