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2011 Marconi Prize goes to giants of cellular communications, data storage

Bob Brown, Network World | June 6, 2011
The 2011 Marconi Prize, sometimes described as the Nobel Prize in Information Technology, has been awarded to two major contributors to cellular communications: Qualcomm Co-founder Irwin Jacobs and the late information theorist and professor Jack Wolf.

LEADER OF THE WOLF PACK

Fellow Marconi Prize winner Wolf, who died in May at the age of 76, spent his career in academics, including as a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California at San Diego since 1984. While there he led the Signal Processing Group "Wolfpack" at UC San Diego's Center for Magnetic Recording Research.

Wolf might be best known for his work as an information theorist, which led to huge improvements in transmitting and storing data. The Slepian-Wolf Theorem, published in 1973 with colleague David Slepian, is considered a cornerstone of information theory, explaining how separate information sources can compress their output streams efficiently. It has applications in everything from video transmission systems to flash memory devices to sensor networks.  Wolf work in magnetic recording also led to advances in storing more data in smaller devices, such as hard drives.

The Marconi Society wrote in its announcement about Wolf's prize that "The incredible data storage capacity of today's technology owes much to Wolf, whose work helped the industry overcome an impending "brick wall" of capacity."

Wolf was recently recalled as an approachable professor by a former student in IEEE Spectrum and in a New York Times obituary that referred to him as the man "who did the math behind computers." 

Both Jacobs and Wolf have been recognized many times over for their work over the years. Among Jacobs' other honors:  a National Medal of Technology and the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal. Wolf won the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal in 2004 (the citation for read that he was "one of the most productive cross-fertilizers in engineering research, successfully importing techniques used in one field to obtain unexpected results in another. Among his and his students' achievements are contributions to the design and analysis of satellite and cellular communication systems, and hard disk drives.")

The Marconi Prize has been awarded since 1975 and past winners have included Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Internet pioneers Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn.

 

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