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Updated 10:45 AM June 15, 2007




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William Root

William Root, 87, a pioneer in the field of statistical communication and information theory, died April 22.

Root was instrumental in placing statistical communication theory on a sound mathematical basis. In this respect, his early publications especially were influential. They included a 1958 text, affectionately known as "Davenport and Root," and a classic 1960 paper that set the standard for a rigorous theory of estimation and identification of signals in noise. Other areas in which Root made distinctive contributions include detection theory, characterization of communication channels, information theory and complex stochastic systems.
(Photo courtesy Root Family)

Root was born 1919 in Iowa. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1940 with a degree in electrical engineering. He then went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned a master's degree in electrical engineering in 1943. His education was interrupted by World War II, in which he served as a Marine officer until the end of the war. Returning to MIT, he earned a doctorate in mathematics in 1952.

Upon receiving that degree, Root joined the analysis group at Lincoln Laboratories, becoming its leader in 1959-61. He joined the faculty of the University as professor of aerospace engineering in 1962 and later obtained a joint appointment in electrical engineering and computer science. He retired as professor emeritus in 1986.

In addition to serving on the executive committee of the College of Engineering and the executive board of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies, Root became, in 1968, the first chair of the Interdepartmental Program in Computer, Information and Control Engineering. It largely was through his organizational efforts and leadership that the program attained national prominence.

Root was a National Science Foundation senior fellow and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). In 1986 he was made Shannon Lecturer, the highest honor bestowed by the IEEE Information Theory Society, and cited for "consistent and profound contributions to information theory."

Admired by his colleagues, Root was respected for high integrity, good sense and wise judgment. He was a superlative classroom teacher, direct and clear, but demanding at an appropriate student level, they say. He had fine personal relationships with his doctoral students, instilling in them high standards and continually encouraging them to extend their horizons.

Root's wife Harriett died April 23, 1998. He is survived by his children Wendy Cate and William Root Jr., and eight grandchildren.

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