Jack Keil Wolf Lecture: Insight from Simple Questions: Three Examples

Henry Pfister, Duke University


Date: 2017-12-01
Time: 2p Lecture; 3p Recep
Location: Wolf Auditorium, CMRR Building, UC San Diego

Guest Speaker: Henry Pfister, Duke University
Associate Professor

Host: CMRR and ECE


UC San Diego electrical and computer engineering alumnus Henry Pfister explores three research problems and their relationship to the late professor Jack Wolf's work.

This talk covers three research problems I have considered and their relationship to Jack Wolf's work. Each topic is motivated by a simple question whose answer provided some insight into a deeper question. First, the connection between Prony's method and algebraic decoding (described by Wolf in 1967) will be used to motivate the question: Can one computer the amplitude and frequency of two complex sinusoids using only three samples, and what does this mean for error correction? Next, a multi-user detection problem for wireless communication will be used to motivate the question: How can cellular systems with successive cancellation approach the equal-rate point of the multiple-access with equal-power users? Finally, the close connection between Polar codes and Reed-Muller codes motivated the question: Can Reed-Muller codes achieve capacity?

The format of this talk was motivated by Jack Wolf's penchant for asking simple playful questions that contain the essence of a deeper problem. This style makes research fun and helps keep students engaged. Of course, selecting the right question is more art than science.


Henry D. Pfister received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 2003 from UC San Diego and is currently an associate professor in the ECE department at Duke University with a secondary appointment in Mathematics. His current research interests include information theory, communications, probabilistic graphical models, and machine learning. Prior to Duke, he was a professor at Texas A&M University (2006-2014), a postdoctoral fellow at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (2005-2006), and a senior engineer at Qualcomm Corporate R&D in San Diego (2003-2004). Pfister received the NSF CAREER Award in 2008 and a Texas A&M ECE Department Outstanding Professor Award in 2010. He is a co-author of the 2007 IEEE COMSOC Best Paper in Signal Processing and Coding for Data Storage and co-author of a 2016 Symposium on the Theory of Computing (STOC) Best Paper. Pfister served as an Associate Editor for the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory from 2013 to 2016, and a Distinguished Lecturer of the IEEE Information Theory Society (2015-2016). 


This talk is organized by the Center for Memory and Recording Research (CMRR) and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).