Qualcomm Co-Founder, Andrew Viterbi, Wins National Medal of Science For Key Wireless Innovation

Wireless pioneer and UC San Diego professor emeritus Andrew Viterbi received a National Medal of Science from President Bush in a White House ceremony Monday, in part for work that later became known as “the Viterbi algorithm.”

That might sound like a sequel to “The Bourne Ultimatum,” but the algorithm is actually used in virtually every cell phone today. Also known as the “maximum-likelihood algorithm for convolutional coding,” it is used to suppress radio interference and efficiently decode digital transmission sequences.

Viterbi also made important contributions to CDMA, the wireless technology shorthand for Code Division Multiple Access, which served as the foundation for San Diego-based Qualcomm and transformed the theory and practice of digital communications.

Viterbi is one of the founders of Linkabit, one of San Diego’s early startups and a co-founder of Qualcomm. One of Viterbi’s co-founders in both companies was Irwin Jacobs, who took home a National Medal of Science of his own in 1994.

Viterbi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT, and his Ph.D. in digital communications from the University of Southern California. In 2004, Andrew and Erna Viterbi committed $52 million to USC’s engineering school, which was renamed in their honor. He is currently a professor emeritus at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering and heads the Viterbi Group, a San Diego technical advisory and investment business.

President Bush told the recipients who gathered in the White House East Room that the setting was  appropriate for a ceremony honoring innovators for extending the frontiers of knowledge, because “Thomas Jefferson reportedly used this room as a place to lay out his fossils.” A White House transcript of the event is here.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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