Ralf Koetter, adjunct associate professor in ECE, 1963-2009

ECE News

Andreas Cangellaris and Andrew Singer, ECE Illinois

Story Highlights

  • Ralf Koetter was a visiting professor in 1997 and joined the faculty in 1999.
  • Koetter's tenure at Illinois ended in 2006, and he joined the faculty of the Technische Universität München as the head of the Institute for Communications Engineering.
  • Koetter's research related to the use of information theory and mathematics for the study of error-correcting codes and communication systems.

Ralf  Koetter
Ralf Koetter

Our dear friend and colleague Ralf Koetter passed away peacefully in Munich last night.

Ralf received a Diploma in Electrical Engineering from the Technical University Darmstadt, Germany in 1990 and the Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Linkoeping University, Sweden. After short appointments as a visiting scientist at the IBM Almaden Research Laboratory in San Jose, California (1996-1997), visiting assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997) and visiting scientist at CNRS in Sophia Antipolis, France (1998), Ralf joined our faculty in ECE at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1999. He was also a researcher in the Coordinated Science Lab.

While a junior faculty member in our department, Ralf's vibrant personality and keen intellect enabled him to forge many strong relationships with colleagues throughout the department and across the university in areas of information theory, circuits, communications, signal processing, imaging, and cryptography. Ralf's tenure at Illinois ended in 2006, when he joined the faculty of the Technische Universität München as the head of the Institute for Communications Engineering.

In the years 1999-2001, he served as associate editor for coding theory & techniques for the IEEE Transactions on Communications. In 2003, he concluded a term as associate editor for coding theory of the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory. He also served as a member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Information Theory Society from 2003 to 2008.

Ralf's research encompassed a number of themes relating to the use of information theory and mathematics for the study of error-correcting codes and communication systems. He had a rare talent among researchers that enabled him to understand the very heart of a research problem, at its most fundamental levels, through which he was able to make many seminal contributions.

Ralf began his career in algebraic coding theory and was among the early researchers to develop and exploit graph theory for the creation and study of error control codes on graphs. His work on so-called factor graphs deepened the understanding of iterative algorithms and led to their widespread use in signal processing and communication systems. As a co-developer of a method for the soft-decoding of Reed-Solomon codes, Ralf received the 2004 Best Paper Award from the IEEE Information Theory Society. His work on "turbo equalization" was at the forefront of over a decade of research in this area and earned a Best Paper Award from the Signal Processing Society for his 2004 paper.

More recently, Ralf had focused on a new class of error-control coding problems related to coding over networks, an area that has received tremendous interest both from the research as well as the popular science communities.

His research has been recognized with numerous additional awards, including an IBM Invention Achievement Award in 1997, an NSF CAREER Award in 2000, an IBM Partnership Award in 2001, and the University of Illinois College of Engineering XEROX award for faculty research in 2006.

Ralf's talents as a brilliant researcher were perhaps only matched by his humility and his compassion as a human being. All those who have had the privilege to have known or worked with Ralf can attest to this unique combination of brilliance and kindness. He was a gentleman and a scholar and he will be greatly missed.

He leaves behind his wife Nuala and son Finn.

Ralf Koetter’s funeral Mass will be Thursday, Feb. 5th, at 11am at the St. Theresia Kirche at the corner of Dom-Pedro-Str. and Landshuter Allee. His burial will be in Kronberg, the town where he grew up, on Friday, Feb. 6th at 10am.

Remembrances can be left on the following Web page: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/ralfkoetter.

The ECE Department has established the Ralf Koetter Memorial Fund in Electrical and Computer Engineering, which will provide support to ECE students and faculty. Donations to this fund can be made to the University of Illinois Foundation. Questions about donations to this new fund should be directed to Jonathan Hill, ECE director of development, at jonahill@illinois.edu or (217) 265-6285.

Note: Andreas Cangellaris is the head of ECE ILLINOIS. Andrew Singer is a professor in ECE ILLINOIS and the director of the Technology Entrepreneur Center at the University of Illinois.

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