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IEEE REACH: Celebrating the Information Age

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IEEE REACH’s new “Information Theory” Unit helps honor ‘Father of Information Theory’
Claude E. Shannon and the importance of information theory in today’s digital era.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once famously said that “information is the oxygen of the modern age.”  But while data and information drive today’s fast-paced society, the very definition of information and its transmission through computers and other electronic devices actually harks all the way back to July 1948.  That’s when a groundbreaking concept in the realm of communications engineering was introduced by Claude E. Shannon, who played an instrumental role in ushering in the current “Information Age” and has long been hailed as the Father of Information Theory.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of Shannon’s seminal paper on the topic, IEEE’s ‘Raising Engineering Awareness through the Conduit of History’ (REACH) Program is proud to announce the introduction of its new IEEE REACH Information Theory Unit, an informative capsule on Information Theory designed for STEM educators and students. The unit was  made possible through generous support from Ray and Carmen Vargas and the IEEE Information Theory Society.

Born in Michigan in 1916, Shannon received a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from M.I.T. Recipient of the Alfred Noble Prize of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers for his work in switching theory and the Institute of Radio Engineers’ Morris Liebmann Award for his communication theory work, Shannon’s concepts have since become fundamental to modern digital information technology.

Specifically, in his 1948 paper entitled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” published when he was a young engineer and mathematician working at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, Shannon proposed that information be quantified through a unit of measure known as a “bit” and explained how data could be compressed electronically for error-free communication — revelations which officially launched the dynamic field of Information Theory.

In July 1982, the IEEE History Center and interviewer Robert Price conducted the only known oral history with Shannon, a revealing exchange upon which the renowned 2019 documentary “The Bit Player (Claude Shannon: Prophet of Information),” a film by Mark A. Levinson, was based.  The film was commissioned by the IEEE Information Theory Society and funded by donations to the IEEE Foundation.

Through IEEE REACH’s new Inquiry Unit on Information Theory, STEM instructors will be able to take a deep dive into the fascinating field of Information Theory, from the very definition of “information” to how information theory enables signals to be compressed and transmitted through electronic mediums. The unit’s primary resources and engaging hands-on activities will enable teachers to bring Information Theory to life in the classroom and help students connect to its relevance in their everyday lives.

IEEE REACH, a program of the IEEE History Center,  provides pre-university teachers with free, open educational resources that situate science, technology, and engineering in social and humanistic contexts.  Ray and Carmen Vargas have donated generously to the IEEE REACH program over the years. “By teaching the social and practical implications of these technologies,” Ray shared, “we have another means of driving students towards STEM fields, and we’re excited to help inspire the next generation of engineers.”

To learn more about the new Information Theory Unit or the other nine learning inquiry units and how you can bring this compelling STEM program to your local school system, contact the REACH Senior Program Manager, Kelly McKenna at k.mckenna@ieee.org or +1.732.562.2687.

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