Claude Elwood Shannon

Claude Shannon, in full Claude Elwood Shannon, (born April 30, 1916, Petoskey, Michigan, U.S.—died February 24, 2001, Medford, Massachusetts), American mathematician and electrical engineer who laid the theoretical foundations for digital circuits and information theory, a mathematical communication model.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1936 with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering, Shannon obtained a research assistant’s position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There, among other duties, he worked with the noted researcher Vannevar Bush, helping to set up differential equations on Bush’s differential analyzer. A summer internship at American Telephone and Telegraph’s Bell Laboratories in New York City in 1937 inspired much of Shannon’s subsequent research interests. In 1940 he earned both a master’s degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT. He joined the mathematics department at Bell Labs in 1941, where he first contributed to work on antiaircraft missile control systems. He remained affiliated with Bell Labs until 1972. Shannon became a visiting professor at MIT in 1956, a permanent member of the faculty in 1958, and professor emeritus in 1978.

Shannon’s master’s thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits (1940), used Boolean algebra to establish the theoretical underpinnings of digital circuits. Because digital circuits are fundamental to the operation of modern computers and telecommunications equipment, this dissertation was called one of the most significant master’s theses of the 20th century. In contrast, his doctoral thesis, An Algebra for Theoretical Genetics (1940), was not as influential.

He had a long career as a research mathematician at Bell Laboratories (1941–72) and as a professor at MIT (1957–78). On the basis of his 1948 paper “The Mathematical Theory of Communication” he is considered the founder of communication theory. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1966 and the Kyoto Prize in 1985.

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