One of the most widely-used and significant search engines in the world, Google, would not have been made if it was not for the Indian professor Rajeev Motwani.

Founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, it was Motwani’s work in data mining and algorithms at Stanford University that played a key role in developing the search engine system.

As Brin noted in his blog paying tribute to Professor Motwani, “Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it.”

Born on 24 March 1962 in Jammu, Professor Motwani grew up in a military household with his father serving in the Indian Army.

Growing up, he showed a genuine appreciation and aptitude for numbers. Professor Motwani was particularly inspired after reading a book about the legendary 19th-century German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss.

“This (desire to become a mathematician) was partly shaped by the books I read at home like ‘10 great scientists or five famous mathematicians’, their life stories and so on,” Motwani said in an interview with Alumni Connect (IIT-Kanpur).

“As a child, whatever heroes you read about you want to become,” he added. After his schooling, he got admitted into IIT-Kanpur as a computer science student.

After graduating from IIT-Kanpur in 1983, he would go on to earn his PhD in 1988 at the University of California, Berkeley, under the supervision of Professor Richard M Karp.

Within a couple of years, he became a professor at Stanford and wrote two standout textbooks on theoretical computer science.

Employing his expertise in data mining and algorithms, Professor Motwani understood the limitless possibilities of the world wide web.

It was Brin who initially sought out Professor Motwani for advice. Despite some initial scepticism about Brin’s idea for a new web search engine in what was considered a “crowded market”, Motwani saw the potential for something much bigger.

Professor Jeff Ulman, a pioneering researcher in the field of computer science at Stanford University, Brin and Motwani came together to form the research group ‘MIDAS’ at Stanford which became the founding stone for Google.

What started out as a “fun research project” eventually turned into something significant and serious.

“So somebody came up with the name Google. Google means 10 raised to the power of 100. It is actually spelt as ‘googol’, but somebody misspelt it and that’s how the search engine got its name,” recalled Motwani in a 2002 interview with author and journalist Shivanand Kanavi.