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While getting ready to go on assignment to a huge glacier in a remote corner of Norway this past August, Associate Editor Erico Guizzo [photo] got an urgent, last-minute request from the engineering team he was meeting there. The researchers had run short of critical components for the electronic probes they were building for their experiments at the glacier.

So Guizzo, who holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, quickly put in an order to Digi-Key Corp., the huge Minnesota-based electronics components retailer. Days later, when he boarded his flight to Europe, he had 30 op-amp chips and 10 analog switches carefully packed in his luggage.

"It made me feel like I was part of the mission," Guizzo says.

Guizzo's story, "Into Deep Ice," describes his week on the glacier, which is named the Briksdalsbreen. It tells of the engineers' clever improvisations and a few weird setbacks, including the loss of some wires to hungry goats.

The team, based at the University of Southampton, in England, showed how a wireless glacier-monitoring system could record environmental observations such as temperature, pressure, and electrical resistivity that simply couldn't be collected with conventional instrumentation. It's a huge step toward their ultimate goal of understanding how the glacier is responding to climate change.

If it were an ice cube, the Briksdalsbreen would measure one kilometer on a side. But the glacier, which had been growing until recently, now appears to be melting. What's going on? "That's what the Southampton team hopes to find out," Guizzo says.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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