ECE Professor Elected ACM Fellow in Class of 2017

Announcement photo: 
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Event Date: 
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Announcement content: 

University of California San Diego electrical and computer engineering professor Alexander Vardy, has been elected a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.

University of California San Diego electrical and computer engineering professor Alexander Vardy, has been elected a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.

Vardy, who also has a faculty appointment in computer science and engineering, was cited for his “contributions to the theory and practice of error-correcting codes and their study in complexity theory.”

Elected ACM Fellows represent the top 1% of ACM members for outstanding accomplishments in computing and information technology. The induction of new ACM Fellows will take place on Saturday, June 23, 2018, in San Francisco at the annual ACM Awards Banquet.

Other Jacobs School of Engineering faculty elected ACM Fellows in the Class of 2017 along with Vardy include CSE graphics and vision expert, Ravi Ramamoorthi, and computer systems and networking expert, Geoffrey M. Voelker.

Since 2013 Vardy has held the Jack Keil Wolf Endowed Chair in Electrical Engineering in the Jacobs School. He joined the school in 1998 from the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to Illinois, Vardy worked in the private sector, including two years at the IBM Almaden Research Center, after completing his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1991 at Tel Aviv University.

Vardy is a leading expert in coding theory, information theory, and communications. Over a span of three decades, Vardy has contributed consistently and profoundly to the theory and practice of error-correcting codes and to their study in complexity theory. With the recent adoption of polar codes in the 5G wireless standard, his work has also had a tremendous impact in practice. When polar codes were discovered in 2009, they were regarded as being of purely theoretical interest, since major obstacles prevented their utilization in practice. However, seven years later, 3GPP voted to adopt polar codes in the 5G standard, largely because of Vardy's groundbreaking work in polar coding, and in particular, his ingenious list-decoding algorithm for polar codes. Among several dozen contributions to the 5G standard that study polar codes, every single one references his list-decoding algorithm and award-winning paper. In 2017, Vardy and co-author Ido Tal received the Communications & Information Theory Societies Joint Paper Award for their landmark 2015 paper "List Decoding of Polar Codes".

Other examples of Vardy's impact on coding theory have included his award-winning paper (with his postdoctoral fellow Ralf Koetter) on algebraic soft-decoding of Reed-Solomon codes. The paper has had great resonance, with leading academic and industry researchers further developing the Koetter-Vardy algorithm, including implementations in software and hardware. Vardy’s paper won the IEEE Information Theory Society Paper Award and resulted in a key patent, and the Koetter-Vardy algorithm is now used in radio communications (JT65 Protocol) and other applications. Vardy also invented a radically new type of code with his student Farzad Parvaresh. Their breakthrough work won the Best Paper Award at the 2005 Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS), and today, Parvaresh-Vardy codes are used to construct the best-known unbalanced expanders, randomness extractors, and explicit coding schemes achieving list-decoding capacity.

Vardy's research and its influence transcend coding theory. He was highly influential in establishing a bridge between the information theory and cryptography communities, after publishing a paper extending the cryptographic notion of semantic security to wiretap channels – a model studied for decades in information theory. Vardy also contributed profoundly to the study of lattices. These contributions include his algorithm for maximum likelihood decoding of the Leech lattice (still the best-known) and his discovery of an especially dense 20-dimensional sphere-packing, which disproved a 25-year-old conjecture about laminated lattices. Vardy's work outside of coding theory has also spanned a wide range from very practical problems (e.g., collisions in RFID tag-singulation protocols) to questions of purely mathematical interest (e.g., q-analogues of Steiner systems).

Among his many honors, Vardy is a past recipient of the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship and an NSF CAREER Award. He is also a past Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, Editor of the SIAM Journal on Discrete Mathematics, and Program Chair of the ISIT. Most importantly, his contributions – reported in over 200 journal/conference publications and 10 patents – had a lasting impact on the development of error-correcting codes and other fields of computer science.