Huffman Coding

… with a bunch of Family Stuff too

Hamming Medal

From the June 1999 issue of IEEE Spectrum, pg. 64.

1999 Richard W. Hamming Medal (Sponsor: Lucent Technologies Inc., Murray Hill, NJ.)For design procedures of minimum redundancy (Huffman) codes and asynchronous sequential circuits, and contributions to analysis of visual imagery.

David Huffman is professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Probably he is best known for the development of the Huffman coding procedure, the result of a term paper written while he was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Huffman codes are present in nearly every application that requires efficient use of binary digits in the digital representation of data-among them data storage and retrieval systems, modems, fax machines, and high-definition television.

Several of Huffman’s other contributions have been in a number of distinctly different areas, including information theory and coding, the design of signals for radar and communications applications, and the determination of the theoretical limitations of, and design procedures for, asynchronous logical circuits: More recently, he has turned his attention to the efficient representation of surfaces. His work on the mathematical properties of “zero curvature” surfaces led to the discovery of his own techniques for folding paper into unusual sculptured shapes.

Huffman’s career in education began after he earned his bachelor’s degree in EE at Ohio State University in 1944, served in the Navy, and then received his master’s from Ohio State and his ScD. from MIT. He joined the MIT faculty, remaining there until 1967, when he became the founding faculty member of the information sciences department at the new campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz. He played a major role in the development of its academic programs and the hiring of its faculty, retiring in 1994. But Huffman remains active as an emeritus professor and continues his teaching 0f information theory and signal analysis courses.

He is the recipient of many prestigious honors and awards, including the Louis E. Levy Medal of the Franklin Institute for his doctoral thesis on sequential switching circuits; a distinguished alumnus award from Ohio State; and the W. Wallace McDowell Award from the IEEE Computer Society. He is also a charter recipient of the Computer Pioneer Award, established by the governing board of the Computer Society, and in 1998 he was honored with a Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation by IEEE’s Information Theory Society.