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Another World-Class Honor for Andrew Viterbi

John Cohoon
June 19, 2007 —
Andrew Viterbi
Andrew Viterbi, who with his wife named the USC Viterbi School, has been chosen as the inaugural co-winner of a preeminent prize in electrical engineering, the James Clerk Maxwell award of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

The prestige of the honor may be seen in its presenter – HRH, the Duke of Edinburgh in Scotland on July 2 – and in the story behind its creation.

The RSE wished to make the public more aware of the contributions of a brilliant Scottish mathematician and physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, whose historic contributions to electromagnetic wave theory, radio propagation and microwave techniques were seen as underappreciated. In reality, Maxwell’s work was transformative.

The RSE decided to create an annual award in his name, to be presented only to those whose work in electrical engineering was similarly world changing. The IEEE agreed to co-sponsor it, and a joint RSE-IEEE awards committee chose Viterbi and his co-founding partner in Qualcomm, Irwin Jacobs, as the worthy first winners. The citation will read, "For fundamental contributions, innovation, and leadership that enabled the growth of wireless telecommunications."

Viterbi, who named USC’s engineering school and who is an alumnus and faculty member of the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering as well as a USC trustee, is the creator of the Viterbi Algorithm, the theoretical basis for such culture-changing communications applications as the cell phone.

His long list of honors include the IEEE’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal and its Claude Shannon Award, along with membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Upon hearing of the award, Yannis Yortsos, the dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said, “The Viterbi name is worth far more to us than Andy and Erna’s magnanimous gift. I am thrilled to see that the fame of that name is still spreading.”