Distinguished Professor Emeritus Jacob Ziv recently received one of science’s most prestigious awards — the 2021 International Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Medal of Honor. The medal is awarded to a single person each year for exceptional contributions to science and technology. Technion Prof. Ziv of the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Computer and Electrical Engineering is the first Israeli to have won this honor.

Anyone who routinely shares emails and photos on the internet, experiences the unparalleled daily impact of Prof. Ziv’s contributions. His Lempel-Ziv Data Compression Algorithm, developed with Technion Professor Abraham Lempel, serves as the basis for essential file compression technologies currently used in memory devices, computers, and smartphones — including PNG, TIFF, ZIP, and GIF. The algorithm has also played a key role in PDF (for documents) and MP3 (for music) formats.

Remarkably, Prof. Ziv developed his seminal data compression algorithm before the internet was widely used. Since then, his work has made communications, data storage, and processing the seamless experience it is today. And with experts predicting the doubling of the digital universe every two years, Ziv’s algorithm is there to meet our exponentially increasing demands on storage and bandwidth.

Prof. Ziv earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at the Technion, then became an R&D engineer at Israel’s Ministry of Defense. He received his Ph.D. in information theory from MIT in 1961 and spent long periods conducting research at Bell Telephone Labs before joining the Technion in 1970. He served as dean of the Technion engineering faculty from 1974 to 1975. “While working as a communication engineer, I was fascinated by early books about information theory,” he said in a 2004 interview with IEEE. “It was pretty clear to me that this was what I wanted to do.”

The Lempel-Ziv algorithm was designated as an IEEE milestone in 2004, and through the years, Prof. Ziv received many awards from the association. In other recognitions, he received the Israel Prize for exact sciences, and the inaugural BBVA Foundation Frontiers in Knowledge Award in the category of Information and Communication Technologies.

He is a member of the Israel National Academy of Sciences and Humanities, where he served as president from 1996 until 2005. Outside of Israel, he has been honored by foreign membership in four of the most prestigious U.S. Academies and recognized with honors in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the European Union.

Note: this impact story was corrected in May 2021 to reflect the official renaming of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Technion. It is now known as the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Computer and Electrical Engineering.