Iyengar Re-architects the Internet

  • Janardhan Iyengar, assistant professor of Computer Science  

When most of us look at the Internet, we are often in awe of its brilliance and speed.

Janardhan Iyengar, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science at Franklin & Marshall College, sees Band-Aids, bottlenecks and fingers in the dike.

He’s working on ideas to develop a new “architecture” for the Internet to more efficiently handle the information traffic flowing through it.

The information superhighway, Iyengar explained, “has hit several evolutionary bottlenecks. Its designers never envisioned this level of activity, nor did they dream of iPhones and other wireless devices. We have been dealing with these changes for too long with patches and bandages.”

Iyengar and a fellow researcher in Germany talk about “re-architecting the transport layer of the Internet so we can eliminate these bottlenecks in the Internet’s growth.”

Iyengar sat back in his chair and sighed contentedly. “I couldn’t live without my research.”

At the same time, Iyengar admitted he couldn’t live without the classroom.

If you would have told him a decade ago, when he was a young electronic engineering student in Bombay, India, that he would be teaching computer science at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, Iyengar said he wouldn’t have believed it.

“And yet, here I am. Now I couldn’t think of being anywhere else.”

Iyengar completed his doctoral studies in 2006 at the University of Delaware and taught at various colleges in Connecticut before joining the faculty at Franklin & Marshall College in the fall term.

He admires the way F&M’s students challenge him in the classroom.

“I have to think about how to pitch ideas to my students to capture their imagination. That’s the thing with liberal arts students. They seek out challenges and are always trying to look at things from different angles. They want to be pushed,” Iyengar said.

He teaches his students that thinking computationally is a different way to solve problems — by breaking a problem down into small, computable components and working out each aspect on the way to solving the whole.

“I’m trying to change the image that computer science is just about programming,” he said.

This summer, Iyengar will work with Hackman Scholars in the Lab for Advanced Internet Research in Stager Hall to create a Session Initiation Protocol network.

SIP is a next-generation Internet communications network that links together the numerous forms of communications devices, such as e-mail, text and phone, and makes their communications fast and seamless. Many devices can’t communicate with each other, but that will change in a SIP network.

It’s complex, Iyengar admitted, but “think of integrating your phone, e-mail, instant messaging and video communications. Now, put this infrastructure on steroids, and you have a SIP network.”

When he is not in class or working on his research with colleagues around the world, Iyengar spends his time with his wife, Laura, and their two young children.

“When students see you around, maybe walking on campus with your family, they get the opportunity to see a different side of a professor,” Iyengar said.

“Professors often see themselves as role models to their students professionally. At a small liberal arts college like Franklin & Marshall, it is also possible for students to see you as another kind of role model: someone who experiences all the joys of family life.”

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