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In Memory of Jack Keil Wolf, Prominent Information Theorist


Jack Keil Wolf, a pioneer in information theory and its applications, died in La Jolla, California on May 12 at the age of 76, following a battle with cancer. A member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, Wolf made profound contributions to digital communication and data storage technology. He served as a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego since 1984.

In June, Wolf was awarded the Marconi Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel for Information Technology, for his life's work. He shared the prize with Qualcomm co-founder and former chairman Irwin Jacobs.

"It's hard to overstate Jack's role in getting the information theory community interested in data storage," said Paul Siegel, an electrical engineering professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering and Director of UCSD's Center for Magnetic Recording Research, where Wolf held an endowed chair. In the 1980s, Wolf was instrumental in bringing a technique known as maximum likelihood detection to the field of data storage. Essentially every hard disk drive, tape drive and DVD player made in the last 20 years uses some form of this technology.

"Adopting the maximum likelihood detection technology allowed hard drives to more accurately and rapidly read ones and zeros," said Andrew Viterbi, a co-founder of Qualcomm and president of the Viterbi Group. Wolf also served as a consultant and later as a part-time employee for Qualcomm for more than 25 years, and had a number of influential patents that were realized in commercial wireless communication systems. Of his many contributions, Wolf is perhaps best known for what has come to be called the Slepian-Wolf Theorem. In 1973, Wolf and colleague David Slepian published a ground-breaking paper in which they proved a fundamental theorem about the efficient compression of correlated streams of data. A devoted husband, father, and grandfather, Wolf is survived by his wife Toby, his children, Joe, Jay, Jill, Sarah and her husband Charles, and his grandchildren, Rachel, David, Becca, AJ and Julia. Google Wolf 's obituary in The New York Times to learn more about his achievements.

A fundraising initiative had been launched at UC San Diego to honor Jack with an endowed chair in his name. Gifts may be directed to the UC San Diego Foundation for the Jack Keil Wolf Endowed Chair in Electrical Engineering, fund #4671, and mailed to: UCSD, Jacobs Hall/EBUI, 7th Floor, 9500 Gilman Drive #0403, La Jolla, CA 92093-0403. Attn: Lisa French. Ms. French can be contacted at 858-246-0593 or

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