The Institute - December 2020 - TI-6
Vetterli has done groundbreaking work in the field of signal processing. He is also one of the pioneers behind multiresolution concepts underpinning videoconferencing and
video streaming services.
" I'm just one guy among a huge community that contributed to these things, " Vetterli says.
While teaching at Columbia from 1986 to 1993, he worked
on a project developing high-performance, high-speed networks that led to today's high-speed Internet services. The
only signal processing expert on the project's team, he figured
out how to use signal processing techniques to put speech
and video on the packet network to make the network more
useful. It was an unusual thing to try at the time, he says.
" I started battling in these fields of what was called packet
video-which was taking video, making little packets out
of it, putting it on a network and, at the other end, reassembling it, " he says. At the time " it looked like something
esoteric. It was certainly not what the mainstream [signal
processing field] was into: doing communications, video
transport, and so on. "
His work led to the development of videoconferencing.
" I feel a bit like an idiot now, " he says, " because I did not
see that [the video packet network] would go so far. It was
interesting intellectually to make it work, but I didn't [foresee] that we would have a conversation over video. "
At UC Berkeley, Vetterli worked with a Ph.D. candidate, Steven McCanne, whom Vetterli says was an " absolutely exceptional and brilliant student. " McCanne, now coding CEO at
startup Brim Security in Oakland, Calif., was also working
on a packet video project but from a different approach.
McCanne came up with the idea of putting a weekly seminar on the Internet, but in the early 1990s, Vetterli says, doing
so was a headache because the Internet was just becoming
available to the public.
TI-6 | DEC 2020 | THE INSTITUTE
A MORE DIVERSE FACULTY
Many universities around the world have few female leaders, and EPFL is no different. In Switzerland, 41 percent of
female academics hold midlevel positions such as associate
professor, while just 23 percent are full professors, according to the 2018 Women and Science report from the Federal
" We don't have enough female professors, especially at
the senior level, and together with many other engineering
schools, we are lagging behind, " Vetterli says.
He commissioned a study in 2018, and its findings were
released in July. The 100-page report covers such issues as
hiring and promotion practices, allocation of resources, gender pay gaps, and work-life balance.
The task force working on the project has made recommendations on how to address the issues-including easier
access to day care facilities, hiring substitute instructors for
those on maternity leave, and pausing the tenure process
for new parents.
" The most forceful thing we can do, " Vetterli says, " is to
make sure that hiring committees aggressively invite many
female professors to apply, invite many to interviews, make
sure we show them we have an attractive campus, that
we have programs for spouses, and that we provide help
" We want to
more and more
" It was very clunky. You had to run wires and make sure
you had access to one of the fat [data] pipes in the department, " Vetterli says. " We wrote papers on the infrastructure,
the algorithms, and the protocols that Steve developed to put
video up online in a way that people with different access
channels could get. That was cool stuff to do. "
The technologies the two worked on contributed to the
development of streaming video.
McCanne says " Martin was the perfect Ph.D. advisor: incredibly smart, a brilliant mentor and, most important, fun to
hang out with. Back in the day, he told me that old joke:
'When you get your undergraduate degree, you think you
know everything. Then you get your master's degree and you
realize you know nothing. Finally, you get your Ph.D. and
you realize nobody else does either, so it just doesn't matter.'
" This was Martin [being] self-effacing and hilarious, but
always supersmart and deep. Working with Martin all those
years ago to push the boundaries of knowledge in our field,
all while enjoying a balanced and rich life along the way, was
a pleasure, an honor, and a gift. "
Vetterli joined EPFL as a professor of engineering in 1995
and held several positions there including dean of its School
of Computer and Communication Sciences. He left in 2013 to
become president of the Swiss National Research Council and
returned in 2016, when he was elected the school's president.
The Institute - December 2020
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