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Masters of technology: these innovators combine inspiration with raw talent to create some of the world's most revolutionary technologies.

IN TECHNOLOGY, IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO build a better mousetrap. So what separates the dreamer from the innovator? That depends. How about persistence, a true love for what you do, and the ability to see beyond limitations? But to make a real impact on any industry, you have to successfully implement your idea--and your product must truly make a difference. From futuristic chip technologies to clean-air devices and cancer-detecting biotechnology, the following tech innovators are moving beyond the cutting edge, giving us a glimpse of what our future holds.

Ntiedor Etuk, 30

Mention the word algebra to most adults and they immediately recall factors, exponents, and the arcane language of FOIL. Many remember the childhood trauma of being forced to learn the idioms of mathematics.

According to Ntiedo Etuk, learning math doesn't have to be painful Etuk is chairman, CEO, and Co-founder of Tabula Digital Inc., a New York-based educational gaming company that combines high-end, 3D video game graphics with action and adventure. "We have never associated pleasure with learning something," says Etuk. "When you watch children play a video game, they express an emotion every five to 10 seconds. That's what I call the engagement component; it brings an emotional experience to learning. Kids learn more and the information is more deeply embedded because of that."

Etuk started the company three years ago with co-founder Robert Clegg, an award-winning electronic game designer. Tabula Digita's first product, Dimenxian, is a first-person, story-driven game that leads students through an action adventure environment while learning foundational algebraic concepts. The multiplayer educational game challenges players to accomplish several tasks--and learn algebra--to succeed, making the company's motto "learn math or die trying" all the more fitting.

"We're losing a Whole generation of kids to educational teaching methods that don't resonate with them," says Etuk "I want to give kids the option to do whatever they want to do. I believe that by grabbing their attention and redirecting it to education, you can open up a Whole world of options they might not have Considered."

Etuk says years of research on teaching math, student testing, and video game playing went into developing the games. The company has a partnership with The Princeton Review and has tested the game with hundreds of children nationwide.

Tommy Lopez, 33

Remember watching Robocop and thinking, "That's cool," as the futuristic law enforcer scanned both vehicle and passenger, retrieving data in an instant? Well, Thomas Lopez's suite of applications might not give police officers body-temperature readouts, but it lets them process vehicle information and handle electronic ticketing at traffic stops--almost without leaving their cars.

To diffuse potentially fraught situations, Lopez, one of three founders of Advanced Public Safety, developed a suite of products which includes voice-enabled input, electronic ticketing, and GPS and mapping technology. For law enforcement, APS' tools essentially work as a virtual partner, using a combination of voice-enabled technology, handhelds, and PCs. Rather than typing license plate numbers and vehicle IDs, officers speak into an on-board microphone attached to a PC using APS technology. That information goes out to the state's databases to check for other violations and then returns with information that enables officers to print a ticket in the vehicle. They simply sign the ticket and hand it to the driver. The information is then sent to the court system.

With clients such as the Tucson Police Department in Arizona, Henrico County PD in Virginia, Oregon Department of Transportation, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, APS posted revenues of $7.5 million in 2005. The company was recently acquired by Trimble, a publicly traded provider of Global Positioning System technology, for an undisclosed sum of money.

"Complaints have decreased with our systems, and traffic citation times are reduced in half," says Lopez. As a police officer with the Boca Raton police department in Florida, Lopez and two colleagues founded APS in December 2OO1 to develop products that would better meet the needs of officers. "Police departments spend millions of dollars on technology that languish because they're not officer-friendly," he says. "We had laptops and state-of-the-art technology, but officers weren't using the products in the vehicles."

Sean Marcus, 34

"I never wanted to be an engineer," says Sean Marcus, technical manager of Sony Ericsson's M2M hardware electrical team. But once he embraced the field, Marcus became one of the company's rising stars. In fact, he recently worked on a product that won the Sony Ericsson Presidential Award for research and development/technology. Marcus is developing gateway products for new telephone and communications technologies. But he admits that as a youngster, engineering and technology were the last things on his mind: "My father was an engineer. All my life it didn't seem like he got paid what he was worth," says Marcus.

After high school, Marcus found himself embroiled in the first Gulf War. Averse to a military career, Marcus bounced around to several colleges before graduating from Florida Institute of Technology. He then landed at Raytheon, working on radio frequency (RF), or wireless, technology,

"I was interested in radio and phone design, and satellite equipment, but it's a difficult market to break into unless you attended one of the top schools," says Marcus. "It started applying for as many RF design jobs as I could and got hired by a startup that was partnering with Sony Ericsson." Integrian Wireless Solutions agreed to hire him on a trial basis to design high-power amplifiers, transmitters, and GPS receiver modules for Ericsson USA. Marcus quickly moved up the ranks, slipping easily into technical leadership and project management roles.

Soon, Sony Ericsson took notice; Marcus has been with the company for four years, developing next-generation technologies. He had a hand in creating the GSM EDGE PC Card, which allows users access to high-speed wireless networks worldwide and the award-winning M2M module for the Sony Vaio VGN-T350P laptop, the first portable to integrate a 3G EDGE WAN radio--essentially placing a wireless access network inside a laptop. Marcus is also involved in shaping the direction of next-gen technology at Sony Ericsson's M2M group. In the last two years, Marcus has been promoted twice to his current position and looks to a future in engineering that surprises even him.

Dr. Omowunmi Sadik, 42

Dr. Omowunmi Sadik is developing a product that could eventually put drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs out of business.

Using a combination of lab-developed polymers and specially designed software, Sadik has created an "electronic nose" that uses microelectrode biosensors to mimic the way mammals detect odor, thus allowing the e-nose to monitor scents and detect illicit drugs and chemicals.

"The way we recognize the smell of coffee is that the odor molecules are mixed with binding protein in the mucous [membrane], which carries them to the receptors, which trigger information sent to the brain," says Sadik. The next time you smell coffee, the brain recognizes it because the information had already been transmitted.

"We pre-design polymers to sense a particular molecule in certain odors, drugs, or pathogens; we pre-design them to sense a particular molecule," explains Sadik, 42, a chemistry professor at Binghamton University and director of the Center for Advanced Sensors & Environmental Systems.

"Biosensors are trained using the same software, so we end up with a database of different things that could be sensed, the way we store data in our brain."

With $1 million in funding from the Department of Defense, Sadik, who is originally from Nigeria, is currently working on scaling down the biosensor to a smaller, wearable, size.

Sadik has also developed a DNA sensor that detects and monitors enzyme activity in the body. Those sensors can provide information about the development of diseases such as diabetes and cancer. They also monitor cell activity and detect abnormal growths long before symptoms--such as a lump in the breast--become evident. "It can provide information on the initiation of cancer, so that very early, we can detect how cells are responding to drugs," she says. Early detection helps determine treatment, not cell response.

Glory Dolphin, 31

Glory Dolphin's college project was so cool, Swiss-based IQAir Group formed an entire company around it and four years later named her CEO of the company's North American division. Dolphin developed the HealthPro Plus as her senior thesis while a business student at the University of Southern California. The device is now considered the only air filtration equipment powerful enough to be used in the fight against SARS. The company has developed 13 different product lines, including room air cleaners, air quality testing equipment and particle counters.

In 2003 IQAir inked a $20 million deal with the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, allowing the company to reengineer the hospitals' air handling systems, a move detrimental in the prevention of cross-contamination, particularly in halting the spread of the deadly SARS virus. The deal covers 43 public hospitals, 47 specialist outpatient clinics, and 13 general outpatient clinics in Hong Kong and is significant since most reported SARS cases are among healthcare workers. IQAir brings the same kinds of products to the home environment. When ABC's Extreme Makeover needs to create a clean environment for the show's makeover candidates, they call in the IQAir team. And when the Los Angeles Zoo needed help with an ailing primate, a rare Bornean orangutan with severe respiratory problems, Dolphin's team came to the rescue.

Not your typical "science geek," Dolphin also earned a business degree and worked vigorously to earn her lab credibility with company engineers on both sides of the pond. She is a certified air filtration specialist, which requires several years of experience. "In the U.S., the No. 1 question is how much will it cost to make a product. In Europe, it really has to be the best but you can't lose the game by pricing yourself out of the market," she explains, IQAir North America posted gross revenues of $75 million in 2005 and has operated in the black since 2000.

Felix Ejeckam, 35

When it comes to innovation, Felix Ejeckam and his team are at the forefront of cutting-edge technology. As CEO of Menlo Park, California-based Group4 Labs, Ejeckam and his crew manufacture extreme semiconductor materials used by chip makers in the manufacture of consumer, industrial, and commercial electronics. The company has tapped into a sweet spot in the tech industry, developing semiconductors from "exotic materials" such as gallium nitride. With this substance, the team has developed the next-generation Gallium Nitride-on-Diamond wafer, the Xero Wafer.

The Xero Wafer is designed to withstand higher temperatures than traditional semiconductor wafers, making it more efficient and powerful than traditional transistors. "This semiconductor would be on the wishlist for any engineer trying to make the most powerful transistor or laser in the world," he says. "We make basic and exotic materials that are the bane of the semiconductor industry," says Ejeckam. This innovation, he predicts, will rival the silicon chip.

The scientist says the company's initial product (and others to follow) could become a sore spot for traditional silicon manufacturers. "The materials we create are impossible for traditional semiconductor manufacturers to develop because their production facilities aren't set up to handle them," he explains. The company is now working with the National Institute of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.

"We're imagining those very things that our most basic laws of nature dare us to imagine," says Ejeckman. "We're engineering basic materials so that they do things that can't be done with traditional technologies."

Ejeckam and his team could change the way consumers and businesses use nearly every device--from cell phones and PCs to biotech devices and RADAR--anything that requires a chip, which, these days, is almost everything.
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Author:Donaldson, Sonya A.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2006
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