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Who is Prof. Thomas Kailath? 10 things you must know

Prof. Thomas ‘Tom’ Kailath was on Friday awarded the US National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama

Professor Thomas Kailath was on Friday awarded US National Medal of Science, widely considered the pinnacle of scientific achievement in that country, with past winners including Steve Jobs and Dave Packard, among others. The awards are announced by the incumbent President, in this case Barack Obama, who said in statement that “These scholars and innovators have expanded our understanding of the world, made invaluable contributions to their fields, and helped improve countless lives.”

Here are 10 things you must know about the 79-year-old Prof. Kailath: 

  1. Professor Thomas Kailath received his Bachelor of Engineering (Telecom) at the College of Engineering in Poona (now Pune) in 1956, and moved to the US the next year after being accepted at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, for a Master’s, and then doctorate, degree. 
  2. He becomes only the sixth person of Indian origin to receive the award. Others who have got it before him are New York University’s Srinivasa S.R. Varadhan (Probability Theory), Purdue University’s Rakesh Agrawal (Energy Innovations), and North Carolina State Univeristy’s B. Jayant Baliga (Energy Innovations), Calyampudi R. Rao (Mathematical and Computer Sciences), and Arun Netravali (Technology).
  3. He became a naturalised citizen of the US in 1976; along the way, he married Sarah Kailath (nee) Jacob in 1962, with whom he had three children – Ann, Paul and Priya. In 1992, he established the Sarah Kailath Chair in India Studies at the University of Berkeley, California. Sarah passed away in 2008 after an extended battle with cancer. 
  4. He joined Stanford University in California as an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering in 1963 and made full Professor in1968. In 1988, he became the first holder of the Hitachi America Professorship, a position he held through June 2001. A month later, he was recalled to the position in an Emeritus position that he continues to enjoy. 
  5. Prof. Kailath’s research and teaching at Stanford have ranged over several fields of engineering and mathematics, with a different focus roughly every decade: information theory, communications, linear systems, estimation and control, signal processing, semiconductor manufacturing, probability and statistics, and matrix and operator theory. 
  6. While he has mentored an outstanding array of over a hundred doctoral and postdoctoral scholars, one the most famous of them, also of Indian origin, is Professor Arogyaswami Paulraj, widely considered the father of WIMAX and the pioneer who made high-speed wireless such as 4G possible. 
  7. In fact, Paulraj credits Kailath’s lectures as a visiting speaker at the Indian Institute of Technology as the inspiration for doing a PhD. It was Kailath was eventually instrumental in bringing Paulraj – then with the Indian Navy – to Stanford University where he became his thesis supervisor. 
  8. In 1992, Kailath and Paulraj together applied for a US patent titled ‘Distributed Transmit – Directional Receive DTDR’ which was granted in 1994, according to India Abroad newspaper. The patent was the building block for increasing bandwidth in wireless systems using multiple antennae for input as well as output. 
  9. Prof. Kailath’s joint efforts with his students have yielded more than 300 journal papers, several of which have received outstanding paper prizes; they have also led to a dozen patents and to several books and monographs, including the major textbooks Linear Systems (1980) and Linear Estimation (2000).
  10. Kailath is also a member of the highly-respected National Academy of Engineering as well as the National Academy of Sciences, both of which are key advisory bodies to the US government. 


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