Bob Metcalfe awarded for contributions to the Internet

Jody Serrano

A few days ago engineering professor Bob Metcalfe traveled to Tokyo, Japan to receive the C&C award for his contributions to the development of the Internet from the NEC C&C Foundation.

Metcalfe is known for the contributions he made while working with 3Com, a multibillion dollar networking company that was acquired by computer giant Hewlett-Packard in 2010. Metcalfe worked with the company in the 1980s to develop Ethernet local-area networking products based on the UNIX operating system and TCP/IP network technologies.

He accepted the award and split the about $130,000 prize with his technological partner Norman Abramson, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii.

UT hired Metcalfe to teach engineering and entrepreneurship in Jan. 2011. Metcalfe said Ethernet originally developed from Abramson’s radio-based Aloha Network in the 1970s, which was the first demonstration of wireless packet data networks.

Metcalfe said he never expected the Internet would become so popular.

“David [Boggs] and I built the first Ethernet as a tool for a lab to access a high speed, high quality printer,” Metcalfe said. “We were the first printer to access a building full of personal computers. Turns out, when you connect things you make them more valuable.”

Metcalfe said the Internet has disrupted industries like journalism, telephone and television, but the latest surprise in the Internet world has been Facebook. He said he predicted the next big changes would probably include energy, health care and education.

“We need to solve energy urgently,” Metcalfe said. “The cost of energy, the fact that it’s owned by people who want to kill us and the fact that it’s polluting the atmosphere.”

He said the development of new energy technology could take as long as it took to build the Internet.

Metcalfe said the greatest problem he sees with Internet today is network security and there needs to be a way to improve a network’s defenses.

Ahmed Tewfik, electrical and computer engineering department chair, said he was not surprised Metcalfe got the award because he is known on an international level. Tewfik was one of the professors in the Cockrell School of Engineering who recruited Metcalfe last fall.

Tewfik said he was in graduate school when Metcalfe worked on the Ethernet, and in meeting him, Tewfik met a personal hero. He also said Metcalfe was not the typical university professor because he was outspoken and had a unique way of approaching things.

“I think he will have a great influence on changing the culture at UT to one that’s more like MIT, which is more entrepreneurial in nature,” Tewfik said. “When he came in he and I talked about making a startup entrepreneur course, and it’s now a two-semester class.”

The course is called the 1 Semester Startup Course and provides mentoring from Austin entrepreneurs to students with a startup idea for a company and the chance to develop the company over a semester. After this semester, the course will last for two semesters. The class held their first “Demo Show” Thursday night, in which students presented company pitches to Austin entrepreneurs.

Biomedical engineering senior Mariel Bolhouse is in Metcalfe’s class and presented Magis Isotopes, a company that works to improve the efficiency of nuclear fuel by isotope separation.

Bolhouse said she has enjoyed the experience of having someone of that prestige be accessible and willing to give advice.

“He’s taught me about the status quo,” Bolhouse said. “My company is going on hold and at first I came up with a pitch that was going to be all sunshine and roses. He taught me it was important to be up front if I didn’t have the answer to a problem.“