Jack Wozencraft, 1925-2009

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Thursday, January 21, 2010 (All day)

John M. Jack Wozencraft, former professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, died peacefully on August 31st 2009, at his home in Redmond WA. Born in Dallas Texas September 30, 1925, Wozencraft is survived by his wife Fran, their three children John, Colin, and Katie, and two grandchildren.

Jack Wozencraft, an electrical engineer and information theorist, is considered one of the pioneers of coding theory. Wozencraft developed the sequential decoding techniques for convolutional codes that made error-free communication possible with relatively low computing power--enabling the subsequent development of modern strategies used by the Internet, cellular phones, and deep-space transmissions.

Wozencraft attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. Following graduation in 1946, he joined the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratory. He received his Sc.D. at MIT in 1957. From 1957 to 1976, when he retired, he served on the MIT Electrical Engineering Department faculty.

In addition to teaching and research, Wozencraft authored numerous articles, consulted for the MIT Lincoln Laboratories and the Defense Communications Agency, and was appointed to the Presidents Science Advisory Council. During the years 1966-69, Wozencraft became interested in the area of programming languages as documented in various editions of course notes entitled "Notes on Programming Linguistics" (with Arthur evans, Jr.) issued to undergraduate students in computer science at MIT.

His 1967 book co-authored with Irwin Jacobs, S.M. 1957, Ph.D. 1959, Principles of Communication Engineering, (ISBN 0881335541) was regarded as the definitive text in communications theory for more than twenty years and remains widely used today.

While on a leave of absence from MIT (19721974), he served as Dean of Research at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Following his retirement from MIT in 1976, he returned to the Naval Postgraduate School as professor of electrical engineering and the founding chairman of a new interdisciplinary command, control, and communications academic group. He was appointed distinguished professor in 1985, and he retired in 1987.

In 2006, Wozencraft was awarded the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal.

Despite these many accomplishments, Jack invariably claimed that the high point of his life was marrying Frances Trask in 1963 during an eclipse of the sun. We entered the church in the dark, he wrote, and came out into sparkling sunlight which has stayed with us ever since. After his retirement, Jack and Fran moved to Sunriver OR and finally to Redmond WA, where they have enjoyed a warm, welcoming community and the opportunity to be closer to family and grandchildren.

Contributions in memory of Jack may be made either to the Sunriver Christian Fellowship (PMB 18160 Cottonwood Rd, Sunriver, OR 97707) or the Redmond Presbyterian Church (10020 166th Ave NE, Redmond, WA 98052.)

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