ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
ECE News

In Memoriam:
Ira Jacobs, Professor

Photograph of Ira Jacobs

Ira Jacobs

August 12, 2010 — Ira Jacobs, a professor of electrical engineering and former interim department head died August 11, 2010 after a long battle with cancer.

Jacobs was born January 3, 1931 in Brooklyn, New York and in 1950 earned his B.S. degree in physics from the City College of New York. He then earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Purdue University in 1952 and 1955 respectively.

Jacobs joined Bell Laboratories in 1955 as a Member of the Technical Staff, working in electromagnetic and communication theory. He was promoted to supervisor in 1960, then department head in 1962 and director in 1969.

He worked in telephone transmission systems engineering and development and directed the development of much of AT&T’s early fiber optic transmission systems. He was named an IEEE Fellow in 1981 (and Life Fellow in 1995) for his leadership in developing fiber optic communications systems.

In 1987 Jacobs retired from Bell Labs and joined Virginia Tech’s faculty. He taught and developed courses in fiber optics and telecommunications and directed research efforts in fiber optic communications technology and applications. Of his faculty position, he once commented that he was “working harder than ever, but enjoying almost every moment of it.”

Jacobs was known as a fair and caring teacher and “a guy who knows his stuff,” as one student posted on an online review. He was interested in making sure that students had a balance of theoretical and practical skills in the field, including strong writing skills.

In addition to teaching and research, Jacobs was also noted for his service to the ECE department and to the field. From 1994-1995, he served as interim department head and worked to build strong teams at all levels, from student design teams to faculty and administrative teams. In recent years he was a major contributor to the department’s assessment committee and ABET accreditation team.

Jacobs was senior advisor to the editor of IEEE Transactions on Communications, and was an associate editor of IEEE Photonics Technology Letters. He served on the executive committee of the IEEE Virginia Mountain Section for many years and received the section’s Outstanding Service Award in 1998 and 2003, and an IEEE Centennial Medal in 2000. He also was appointed to the FCC Technological Advisory Council in March 2003. He published more than 50 journal articles and gave many presentations at professional conferences.

Among his colleagues at Virginia Tech, Jacobs was known for his humility, generosity, and fairness. Younger faculty members appreciated his guidance and inspiration.

In 2009, he published a collection of children’s stories, The Life and Times of Otto K ottO, Pocahontas Press; and self-published his memoirs, Most Peoples Not So Lucky, which focuses on four themes: telecommunications, education, Judaism, and cancer.

Jacobs is survived by his wife of 54 years, Irene; son Phillip, and daughters Mona Markell and Nancy Jacobs; and seven granddaughters, Gitty, Leah, and Sorah Jacobs, Rebecca, Jenny, and Rachel Markell, and Isabelle Jacobs; as well as his brothers Herbert Jacobs and Robert Jacobs.