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In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Irving S. Reed, 88

One of the outstanding engineers of the past century, Reed made fundamental contributions to digital computers, communications, and radar.
Katie Dunham
September 11, 2012 —

On Sept. 11, 2012, Emeritus Professor Irving S. Reed of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering passed away at the age of  88.

Reed was a professor in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering from 1963 until his retirement in 1993 as Powell Chair of Engineering Emeritus.

One of the outstanding engineers of the past century, Reed made fundamental contributions to digital computers, communications, and radar. His many major awards included election to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (1979), to the grade of Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) (1973), to the receipt of its Hamming Award for Communications (1989), and the Shannon Prize, its highest award for Information Theory. In 1995, he shared IEEE’s Masaru Ibuka Award with collaborator Gustave Solomon for their invention of Reed-Solomon Codes, for decades the most widely used system for protecting the integrity of both stored and transmitted data. In 1998, he also received the IEEE’s Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation.

Reed received his academic degrees, including his Ph.D., from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Upon discharge from the Navy, while still a graduate student at Caltech, Reed participated in the creation of one of the very first digital computers: Northrop Aviation’s Magnetic Drum Digital Differential Analyzer (MADDIDA), used to control the guidance system for the Snark cruise missile. Reed and his team members flew the device to Princeton to demonstrate it for mathematician John von Neumann.

At MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories from 1951 to 1960, Reed pioneered in three crucial areas: the development of computer programming languages, the theory of radar design and performance, and the Reed-Muller and Reed-Solomon codes for protecting digital information.

After three years at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Reed joined the faculty at the University of Southern California in 1963, where he spent the remainder of his career.

At USC, Reed was a key member of the departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, as well as a key founding member of both the Signal and Image Processing Institute and the Communication Sciences Institute. With his graduate students, he continued to develop improved decoding algorithms for error-correcting codes, as well as the data compression methods that became the basis for JPEG and the AOL system. Millions of people today enjoy the benefits of Reed’s many inventions and contributions to technology without being aware of their remarkable benefactor.

Reed was a lifelong aviation enthusiast and student of history.  He is survived by his wife, Bernice, two sons, ten grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and a myriad of past students who carry on his work today.

Final visitation with Professor Reed will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 18, between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. at Woodlawn Cemetery Mausoleum and Mortuary, 1847 14th Street, Santa Monica, Calif. 90404, (310) 458-8717.  Memorial services will follow the visitation beginning at 11 a.m. at the same location.  All family, friends, colleagues, former students and others who wish to pay their last respects are encouraged to attend.