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Thomas Kailath Wins IEEE Medal of Honor (07 Dec 2006)

India-West Staff Reporter

Thomas Kailath, Hitachi America Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, at Stanford University, was named this week the winner of the 2007 Medal of Honor by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, one of the most prestigious technology associations in the world.

Since the medal was inaugurated in 1917, only one other Indian American has received it - C. Kumar Patel of AT&T Bell Labs, who was given the medal in 1989 for his contributions in developing the carbon dioxide laser and the spin flip Raman laser.

Kailath, a prolific researcher whose theoretical work led to significant breakthroughs in communications, information theory, signal detection and semiconductor manufacturing, is being given IEEE's most prestigious award for his "exceptional development of powerful algorithms in the field of communications, computing control and signal processing."

He will receive the gold medal, bronze replica, certificate and $50,000 prize at an honors ceremony next June at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.

IEEE also announced this week that Narayana N.R. Murthy, chairman and chief mentor of Bangalore-based Infosys Technologies Ltd., would receive the Ernst Weber Engineering Leadership Recognition honor, among 12 medals, a service award and leadership recognition award to be presented in June.

Murthy, who founded Infosys with six other software professionals in 1981 and served as chief executive for more than 20 years, is being recognized for his "pioneering role in the globalization of information technology software and services, and leadership in establishing global business governance practices in India."

Reached by phone on a short vacation, Kailath told India-West, "It's a very great honor and I'm very happy. But I want to emphasize that it's a collective award. A lot of wonderful students, post-docs and friends contributed. About 100 of those are among the very best."

He said he started out doing individual work but then tapped into the resources and talent at in the university milieu. As more friends sent him better and better students, "we entered new areas every decade."

About half of Kailath's doctoral and postdoctoral students have gone on to become IEEE Fellows.

Kailath said that while there have been other Medal of Honor winners in signal processing - in areas such as speech recognition, for example, he believes he is the only one in the statistical signal processing field.

"Many of us have met individuals who have made deep contributions in specific technical fields, or had a major impact on industry, or had a major impact on their academic discipline or educated the leaders of the future," said Jim Plummer, dean of the Stanford School of Engineering. "Tom is essentially unique in that he has done all of these things at the very highest levels."

Two of his former students, John Cioffi and Arogyaswami Paulraj, have since joined him at Stanford and as members of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.

"Speaking as one of his many Ph.D. advisees over the years but I suspect for most, I would say Tom Kailath is more of a father than just an advisor," Cioffi said.

"He continues to look after the interests of his former students carefully, decades after they've graduated. His group just has to have been more successful than any academic group in electrical engineering history. That is a tremendous credit to Tom, his energy, his intelligence, and his encouragement."

John M. Wozencraft, Kailath's Ph.D. advisor at MIT, where the Indian American received his doctorate in electrical engineering in 1961, in a note of congratulations to the medal winner, said, "It is students that make teaching fun, and I will never forget all I learned from my first doctoral candidate."

Kailath, who grew up in Pune and received a B.E. in telecom from Poona University, is a past president of the IEEE Information Theory Society, a recipient of its Shannon Award and a winner of Guggenheim and Churchill fellowships.

His many other honors include the IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal in 2006 and the IEEE Education Medal, so this year's honor gives him the rare hat trick of three IEEE awards.

Kailath is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering and the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, an aggregation of academy memberships that is unprecedented.

The IEEE has more than 365,000 members in 160 countries. The organization sponsors or co-sponsors about 400 international technical conferences each year.

Last modified 1/17/2013