Robert Fano

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Robert Fano
Robert Fano 2012-03-13.jpg
Prof. Fano in his office at MIT in 2012
Born Roberto Mario Fano
(1917-11-11)11 November 1917
Turin, Italy
Died 13 July 2016(2016-07-13) (aged 98)
Naples, Florida
Citizenship United States of America
Fields computer science, information theory
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alma mater MIT
Thesis Theoretical Limitations on the Broadband Matching of Arbitrary Impedances (1947)
Doctoral advisor Ernst Guillemin
Known for Shannon-Fano coding, founder of Project MAC
Notable awards IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal (1977)
Shannon Award (1976)
IEEE Fellow (1954)

Roberto Mario "Robert" Fano (11 November 1917 – 13 July 2016) was an Italian-American computer scientist and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1]

Fano was born in Turin, Italy in 1917.[2][3] He was known principally for his work on information theory, inventing (with Claude Shannon) Shannon–Fano coding[4] and deriving the Fano inequality. He also invented the Fano algorithm and postulated the Fano metric.[5] In the early 1960s, he was involved in the development of time-sharing computers, and from 1963 until 1968 served as founding director of MIT's Project MAC, which evolved to become what is now known as the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.[6][7] Fano also helped to create MIT's original computer science curriculum. He retired from active teaching in 1984.[8]

Fano's father was the mathematician Gino Fano, his older brother was physicist Ugo Fano, and his cousin was Giulio Racah.[9] He grew up in Turin and studied engineering as an undergraduate at the School of Engineering of Torino (Politecnico di Torino) until 1939, when he emigrated to the United States as a result of anti-Jewish legislation passed under Benito Mussolini.[10] He received his S.B. in electrical engineering from MIT in 1941, before joining the staff of the MIT Radiation Laboratory. After the war, he received an Sc.D., also from MIT, in 1947; his thesis, titled "Theoretical Limitations on the Broadband Matching of Arbitrary Impedances",[11] was supervised by Ernst Guillemin. He joined the MIT faculty in 1947. Between 1950 and 1953, he led the Radar Techniques Group at Lincoln Laboratory.[12] In 1954, Fano was made an IEEE Fellow for "contributions in the field of information theory and microwave filters".[13]

Fano was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1973, to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978, and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958.[12][14]

Fano received the Claude E. Shannon Award in 1976 for his work in information theory.[12] He died on 13 July 2016 at the age of 98.[8]


In addition to his work in information theory, Fano also published articles and books about microwave systems,[15] electromagnetism, network theory, and engineering education. His book-length publications include:

  • George L. Ragan, ed., Microwave Transmission Circuits, vol. 9 in the Radiation Laboratory Series (as co-author, 1948).
  • Electromagnetic Energy Transmission and Radiation (with Lan Jen Chu and Richard B. Adler, 1960).
  • Electromagnetic Fields, Energy, and Forces (with Chu and Adler, 1960).
  • Transmission of Information: A Statistical Theory of Communications (1961), ISBN 978-0262561693.


  1. ^ Markoff, John (13 March 2008). "Joseph Weizenbaum Dies; Computer Pioneer Was 85". The New York Times. p. 22. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Seising, Rudolf (2007-08-08). Fuzzification of systems: the genesis of fuzzy set theory and its initial applications - developments up to the 1970s. Springer. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-3-540-71794-2. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  3. ^ "United States Public Records Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Salomon, David (2007). Data compression: the complete reference. Springer. pp. 72–. ISBN 978-1-84628-602-5. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  5. ^ Fano, Robert M. (April 1963). "A heuristic discussion of probabilistic decoding". IEEE Transactions on Information Theory. 9 (2): 64–73. doi:10.1109/tit.1963.1057827. 
  6. ^ Wildes, Karl L.; Lindgren, Nilo A. (1985). A century of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, 1882-1982. MIT Press. pp. 348–. ISBN 978-0-262-23119-0. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Belzer, Jack; Holzman, Albert G.; Kent, Allen (1979-05-01). Encyclopedia of computer science and technology: Pattern recognition to reliability of computer systems. CRC Press. pp. 339–. ISBN 978-0-8247-2262-3. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Conner-Simons, Adam; Gordon, Rachel (July 15, 2016). "Robert Fano, computing pioneer and founder of CSAIL, dies at 98". MIT News Office. Retrieved 15 July 2016. 
  9. ^ The New York Times biographical service. New York Times & Arno Press. 2001. p. 297. 
  10. ^ Morris, Errol (23 June 2011). "Did My Brother Invent E-Mail With Tom Van Vleck? (Part Five)". Opinionator. The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  11. ^ "Theoretical Limitations on the Broadband Matching of Arbitrary Impedances - MIT Technical Report no. 41" (PDF). MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics. 2 January 1948. Retrieved 2013-05-18. 
  12. ^ a b c Lee, John A. N. (1995). International biographical dictionary of computer pioneers. Taylor & Francis US. pp. 296–. ISBN 978-1-884964-47-3. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "IEEE Fellows - F". Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  14. ^ Dates of election per the American Academy and National Academies membership lists.
  15. ^ Lee, Thomas H. (2004). Planar microwave engineering: a practical guide to theory, measurement, and circuits. Cambridge University Press. pp. 93–. ISBN 978-0-521-83526-8. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 

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