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William Siebert, professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer science, dies at 89

Siebert, an expert in long-range radar, helped shape EECS undergraduate curriculum.
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William Siebert
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William Siebert
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Photo: MIT EECS

Professor Emeritus William M. Siebert passed away Sunday, Oct. 25, at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts, at the age of 89. Siebert, the Ford Professor of Engineering emeritus, was widely known for his contributions to long-range radar, and for his dedication to undergraduate teaching.  

As the leader of the Radar Techniques Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in the early 1950s, Siebert produced the first system capable of simultaneously measuring a target’s range and velocity. This work would earn him the 1988 IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society Pioneer Award for “contributions to pulse-compression techniques for radar systems.”

Born in Pittsburgh in 1925, Siebert joined the MIT faculty after completing his BS in 1946 and his ScD in 1952, both at MIT. In later years, his research used signal processing and communications system theory to understand the human ear through modeling the auditory system at the neural level. He was also interested in the pedagogical implications of using computer science for engineering teaching.

Siebert’s colleagues remember him as a popular lecturer who was devoted to his teaching. His 1985 textbook, "Circuits, Signals, and Systems," based on his decades of experience teaching introductory signals and systems courses, is now considered a standard in undergraduate teaching.

Siebert also worked to expand the depth and breadth of the EECS undergraduate curriculum. As computer science grew as a specialization within the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it became increasingly difficult to fit the all of the necessary material into the undergraduate curriculum. Siebert envisioned a fifth-year master's program that would allow students intending to work as engineers to gain all of the necessary technical expertise, without sacrificing common core requirements. His vision informed the creation of EECS’s MEng program, and throughout the 1990s he served on the curriculum committee that designed the program.

“Professor Siebert played an important role in shaping the department’s undergraduate curriculum,” said Anantha Chandrakasan, head of EECS and the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering. “He will be greatly missed by the many students, colleagues, and friends whose lives he impacted during his decades at MIT.”

Siebert was a Fellow of the IEEE, and was the Ford Professor of Engineering from 1984-1994. He retired from MIT in 2000 after teaching as a senior lecturer for several years.

He is survived by four children and eight grandchildren. For service information and an obituary visit deefuneralhome.com.

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