Robert J. McEliece, Interplanetary Communications Pioneer, Dies at 77

IEEE also mourns the loss of IEEE Nigeria Section’s webmaster and other members

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THE INSTITUTEIEEE Life Fellow Robert J. McEliece died on 8 May at the age of 77.

McEliece contributed to the design and analysis of coded interplanetary telecommunication systems such as the Golay-coded nonimaging system for the Voyager spacecraft and the Big Viterbi Decoder used on the Galileo, Mars Pathfinder, Cassini, and Mars Exploration Rover missions. The secure McEliece cryptosystem is named after its inventor. He also contributed to the discovery of the JPL bound, the best-known upper bound made to the basic combinatorial problem of information theory. For his efforts, he received an IEEE Golden Jubilee Paper Award in 1998.

McEliece’s theorem, also named in his honor, identifies the largest power of p that divides all the weights in a p-ary cyclic code. It is one of the deepest mathematical results to come out of coding theory.

McEliece became a professor of mathematics in 1978 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He conducted research at the school’s Coordinated Science Laboratory.

In 1982 he joined the faculty at the Caltech, in Pasadena, as a professor in the electrical engineering department, and served as the department’s executive officer from 1990 to 1999. He won awards for excellence in teaching, and he mentored more than 30 Ph.D. students, four of whom are now IEEE Fellows. He also wrote three textbooks and more than 250 research articles. He retired from the university in 2007.

He received numerous IEEE awards including the 2004 IEEE Claude E. Shannon Award and the 2009 IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal.

McEliece earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1964 at Caltech, where he received a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1967.


David Tobechukwu Okereafor

IEEE Nigeria Section webmaster

Member, 29; died 17 April

Okereafor was an active volunteer for the IEEE Nigeria Section.

He served as the section’s webmaster and was secretary for the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Nigeria chapter. He was also the webmaster for this year’s IEEE Power & Energy Society Power Africa Conference, to be held in August. He designed and maintained websites for numerous IEEE conferences held in Nigeria.

Okereafor developed embedded systems and worked for several companies on such projects as the Internet of Things, robotics, and unmanned ground vehicles.

He graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the Federal University of Technology in Owerri, Imo, Nigeria.

During his time at university, he helped organize several of the section’s student robotics competitions, gave tutorials on programming, and encouraged fellow students to participate in programming competitions.


Robert Harmon Carlstead

Electrical engineer

Life Member, 90; died 28 April

Carlstead worked for several companies in Silicon Valley. He began at Lockheed Martin and left there to join Schlumberger Technologies, formerly Fairchild Semiconductors. He worked there for 27 years in the test-equipment division, producing machines capable of performing self-automated tests. After retiring in 1994, he occasionally consulted for Schlumberger.

Carlstead received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1952 from the University of Missouri in Columbia. He then joined the U.S. Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, serving as a first lieutenant in the Navy for four years. His tour of duty included the Caribbean, Guantanamo Bay, the Panama Canal, and South America.

After he was discharged, he attended Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, graduating in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. While working, he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Santa Clara University, in California.


Thomas F. Gibbons Jr.

Electrical engineer

Member, 47; died 25 May

Gibbons specialized in high-speed communication technologies. He began his career with Multilink, a telecommunications startup. He left to join the semiconductor company Agere Systems, in Allentown, Pa., which through a series of mergers, became part of semiconductor developer Broadcom.

During his career, Gibbons received several U.S. patents for his inventions, including one for joint transmitter and receiver gain optimization for high-speed serial data systems and a method of transmitter training using receiver equalizer coefficients.

He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1994 from Drexel University, in Philadelphia.

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