UW News

October 23, 2015

From cell phones to DNA: Electrical engineering lectures explore information theory

Information theory is the science behind the engineering of all modern-day communication systems and also has surprising applications far beyond communication.

Stanford University professor David Tse will focus on how information theory has enabled new technological innovations as part of the 2015 Dean Lytle Endowed Lecture Series hosted by the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

Tse will give a public talk Monday, Nov. 2, at 3:30 p.m. in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering atrium, with a reception to follow. The lecture, titled “The Science of Information: From Pushing Bits over the Air to Assembling the World’s Largest Jigsaw Puzzle,” is free, but advance registration is requested by Friday, Oct. 30.

David Tse

David TsePeg Shorpinski

“While the design of physical systems is based on the laws of physics, the design of communication systems is based on the laws of information theory,” said Tse, a professor of electrical engineering.

Take cell phones, for example. It’s hard to point to another technology that has gone from being virtually nonexistent to having 3 or 4 billion products used around the globe in such a short time span, said Tse, who is also co-author of the book “Fundamentals of Wireless Communication.”

“There are many technologies that have gone into making this possible, but some of the invisible ones are the algorithms and codes to make communication reliable and fast,” he said. “The design of this whole system is based on the principle of information theory, and I’ll give some examples of how that works.”

The applications of information theory go well beyond communications. In Monday’s talk, Tse will also discuss how information processing algorithms and software have enabled us to sequence the human genome far more rapidly and less expensively than would otherwise be feasible.

Tse will give another, more technical talk entitled “Haplotype Phasing, Convolutional Codes and Community Detection” on Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 10:30 a.m. in the Electrical Engineering Building, Room 105. In this talk, Tse will demonstrate an intriguing relationship between three disparate problems: decoding the two “haploid” chromosomes from short “read” data, decoding a noisy wireless signal and figuring out communities of friends in a social network. All these problems share a common foundation in information theory.

The lectures will be also be livestreamed and will be available for later viewing on the department’s YouTube channel.

The lecture series honors the late Professor Dean W. Lytle, who began his career as an assistant professor in 1958 at the UW Department of Electrical Engineering. Professor Lytle’s teaching, research and high-impact consulting reached from communications, networks and probability to signal processing.

For more information, contact Brooke Fisher at bfisher@ee.washington.edu.