First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Jacob Ziv


Full name

Jacob Ziv

Birth Date


What Award did you receive from IEEE?

IEEE Medal of Honor

Place of Birth

Tiberias, Israel

Where did you grow up

Ra'anana, Israel

Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession

Prior to immigrating to Israel from Russia in 1927, my father, Ben-Zion, studied agriculture and education. Mnd my mother, Chanah, got her degree in literature and humanities. My father was a teacher and a school principal in Tiberias and then in Ra’anana. Later in her life, my mother became active in the Israeli Labor Union. My brother, Yehuda, graduated from a teacher seminary and dedicated his life to Israeli geography and history. He was a teacher and a member of the government-naming committee for villages and cities in Israel.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

I was always interested in technical gadgets and scientific problems.

What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?

I grew up in Ra’anana, which was a small village surrounded by orange groves.

Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)

I learned to play the violin and as a teen and enjoyed reading detective stories, especially Erle Stanley Gardner novels (Perry Mason).

Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?

I was a member of a youth movement.

Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?

I helped my parents grow vegetables and maintain a chicken pen.

Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?

We had a very small number of relatives in Israel, and family gatherings were limited to them and to close friends of my parents.

EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

My favorite topics in high school were math and science. It had a lot to do with the fact that I had an excellent teacher for those two topics. Mathematics, physics, and electromagnetic theory were my favorite topics in university.

Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?

Gymnastics, because I felt that I was among the best students, to say the least.

Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?

I attended the Technion after a few years as an air force radar technician, as it was the only Israeli university with an Electrical Engineering department at the time. There, I got enchanted by the then-emerging information theory as created by Claude Shannon. And since Shannon was at MIT, my natural selection was to go there for my D.Sc.

Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job

My first job was as a radar technician. My second job was as a Teaching Assistant at the Technion. My current position is Technion Research Professor Emeritus. My two favorite jobs were as a communication engineer and being a faculty member of the Viterbi Department of Electrical Engineering at the Technion.

Has your career turned out as you expected?


Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?

The IEEE played an essential role in my research career due to the fact that almost all of my research papers were published in the “IEEE Transactions on Information Theory.” When it comes to electrical and computer engineering research and development, the IEEE is the most important technical organization in the world.

You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?

This award is important to me because it makes me a "member" of a rather small but prestigious club of past Medal of Honor recipients, all of who are world leading technical innovators.

Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?

It is now popular to associate technical innovation with the expression “thinking out of the box.” However, to be successful, you must have a full box to start with. Namely, put an emphasis on educating yourself in mathematics and statistics, physics, and computer science and engineering.

Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?

Don’t give up playing the violin, since I keep dreaming of playing chamber music as I get older.

Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?

My only criteria wasn't whether a project will be successful, but rather, if it was interesting enough for me to pursue it.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

Pursing research in Information Theory, which symbolizes the beautiful connection between what theory tells you could not be done, and achieving a solution that is close to that bound.

Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?

Listening to music and reading books

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

Raising four children

Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?

Classical music

Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)

My math teacher in high school, professor Robert Fano, and professor Jack Wosecraft at MIT.

What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?

Electric power