Tuesday, September 2, 2008

All Linkabit founders get their National Medal

Later this month, two-thirds of the Linkabit founders will receive a National Medal of Science. With an earlier award, this means all three founders will have received one of the National Medals for lifetime achievement.

Andrew Viterbi will be among eight honorees scheduled to receive the award Sept. 29 in a White House ceremony with President Bush. Viterbi, the former JPL researcher and UCLA and UCSD professor, is of course the inventor of the Viterbi algorithm, widely used in all digital cellphones. He also advanced digital satellite communications as a co-founder and CTO of Linkabit and Qualcomm. He retired from Qualcomm in 2000, and since then has invested in startup companies through The Viterbi Group.

Also receiving a medal will be Leonard Kleinrock, the UCLA professor who was a cofounder and associated with Linkabit for several months when it was founded in 1968. Instead, he went back to working on his packet switching MIT doctoral thesis to ARPA secure routing requirements. This included getting the UCLA interface message processor (IMP) up and running, and using it to send the first e-mail message in October 1969.

The two men join the best known Linkabit (and Qualcomm) founder, who received the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1994.

Although the award nominations are administered by the National Science Foundation, sometimes there are political overtones to presidential awards in the sciences and arts. Irwin and Joan Jacobs have been major contributors to Democrat candidates and causes at the national level (including Bill Clinton), even if their San Diego political involvement was aligned against teachers and pro-reform education candidates aligned with then-SDUSD superintendent (and certified Friend of Bill) Alan Bersin.

Viterbi’s honor by Bush is certainly not for his fundraising prowess. Campaign reports as of Sept. 1 show that since 2000, Viterbi has given slightly more than $100,000 to Democrat (mainly Senate) candidates and associated committees. The notable exception of Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who’s facing a GOP primary challenge prior to his general election challenge by comedian Al Franken. Kleinrock has only one $500 contribution to the 2006 Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Certainly all three men had already proven that they deserve this national recognition, including being named Fellows of the IEEE and elected members of the National Academy of Engineering. Viterbi and Kleinrock in particular have received numerous awards for technical achievement in communications engineering, including the Marconi Prize.

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