‘This Is Us’ Honours Nasir Ahmed in Ep 8, Season 5 – Who is He?

Nasir is the man behind Discrete Cosine Transform – the technology which makes it possible to share photos & videos.

South Asians
3 min read

If you've been following the Pearson family closely, you must have watched episode 8 from the fifth season of 'This is Us' introducing two new characters to the show – Nasir and Esther Ahmed.

The first time we see the pair, it's circa 1963 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a man introduces himself as “I'm Nasir from India” as a young Esther is seen walking up to him, asking for a light.


The next time we see the couple, Nasir is cradling their son in his arms. Shortly after, another scene reveals their relevance.

As Esther is seen getting annoyed at Nasir for having returned late from work, Nasir replies, “When your mother wants a picture of you, what do we have to do? What if instead of waiting for the mail, she could see it instantly? They will be able to share images... Imagine if you could talk to someone on the screen but with a video.”

These lines from the show piece the puzzle together as viewers learn by the end of the episode that Nasir is the man behind the video-calling technology we use today. He's the reason the Pearsons are able to stay connected using FaceTime amid the raging coronavirus pandemic .

From Bengaluru to USA

Nasir Ahmed hails from the southern city of Bengaluru, in India. He was born in 1940, and subsequently completed his schooling from Bishop Cotton Boys School. He earned his Bachelors in electrical engineering from the University College of Engineering in Bengaluru in 1961. Thereafter, he moved to the US for his higher studies and pursued both his MS and Ph.D at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

After his graduation, Ahmed worked as the Principal Research Engineer at Honeywell in St Paul, Minnesota from 1966 to 1968. He then took on the role of a professor at the Kansas State University and taught there till 1983, following which he joined the University of New Mexico and retired in 2001. He is currently Professor Emeritus of electrical and computer engineering at the University of New Mexico.

What is DCT?

In the 1970s, Nasir led a research team that developed the Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT), which makes it possible to share photos and videos.

In a paper on how he built the technology, Nasir says he had written a proposal to the National Science Foundation to study the cosine transform using two distinct polynomials. “Much to my disappointment, NSF did not fund the proposal,” he lamented, adding that a reviewer had deemed his proposal “too simple”. Not one to give up, Nasir kept at it through his P.hD until he finally cracked the DCT.

Today, Nasir and his team's work on DCT is used in high-definition digital TVs, teleconferencing, and other image-sharing platforms, among numerous other commercial applications.

He is also credited with having invented the .jpg file format for photos, according to Bustle.


Finding Love

Nasir is the man behind Discrete Cosine Transform – the technology which makes it possible to share photos & videos.
The real Nasir and Esther.
(Photo Courtesy: A still from the episode)

Nasir met Esther Pariente, an Argentinian, at the University of New Mexico. According to the College of Graduates in Economic Sciences of Tucumán, Esther holds a master's degree in English from Kansas State University and a Ph.D in Spanish and Latin American Literature. Their son, Michael Pariente, is a well-known criminal defence attorney based in Las Vegas.

The makers of ‘This is Us’ caught up with the couple over a video chat to know their story, before paying a fitting tribute to the couple in the eighth episode.

According to Bustle, Nasir and his wife Esther released a limited-edition book about their lives called Parallel Lives In Curved Space in 2018. The couple celebrated their 56th anniversary recently.

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