A Fond Farewell

Author: Barbara Leonard
George Cooper’s indelible mark remembered

The engineering world lost a considerable talent on June 8, when distinguished emeritus faculty member George Cooper passed away at age 88.

George Cooper

Cooper received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Purdue, and upon receiving his PhD in 1949, joined the faculty of the School of Electrical Engineering. He concentrated his research in the areas of communication theory and system analysis. From 1965 to 1969, he was assistant head for graduate study, and in 1975 he became coordinator of graduate study, a position he held until he retired in 1985.

“While I did not have the honor and pleasure of knowing Professor Cooper personally, my appreciation for his contributions to Purdue and beyond continues to grow,” says Ragu Balakrishnan, head of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Professor Cooper had 47 PhD students, and the impact of his work lives on through them and their achievements.”

With a career that spanned over 40 years, Cooper’s contributions to Purdue’s ECE program — and the field at large — are legendary. He is named as inventor or coinventor on 10 patents; author or co-author of six textbooks and 75 technical papers; and a former program consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Particularly prominent among his research endeavors were significant contributions to what is today cell phone technology. “Professor Cooper in the 1970s, along with his graduate students, developed new methods for spread spectrum modulation,” says Edward Delp, the Charles William Harrison Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “These methods were the basis of modern mobile communication systems including cell phones and GPS.”

“I felt very fortunate to be a graduate student in the last course that he taught at Purdue before he retired. He was a beloved professor, and he had a giant heart for students, and for helping them learn and grow as people.”
– Ted Rappaport
The William and Bettye Nowlin Chair in Engineering
University of Texas at Austin

Remembered as a kind, patient and compassionate man, one who epitomized integrity in work and life, he had a tremendous impact on Purdue’s history. His former students recall a riveting and insightful professor.

“When I was a freshman engineering student at Purdue, Professor Cooper was the invited speaker at the W9YB Purdue amateur radio club meeting,” recalls Ted Rappaport, a former student and engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The year was 1978; I was new to college, and new to engineering. Professor Cooper’s talk about how cellular telephones would someday provide ubiquitous communications kept me on the edge of my seat.”

Just recently, recalls Balakrishnan, “I heard from a very successful alumnus who specifically credited Professor Cooper as the one ‘most responsible for starting [him] on the path toward developing insight into communications theory.’”

In addition to his faculty appointment, Cooper consulted widely on radar system analysis, automatic control systems, sonar arrays, seismic signal processing for the petroleum industry and spread spectrum communications systems. After retirement he served as a principal scientist/engineer for Hughes Missile Systems Co.

He was a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a recipient of the Purdue’s Outstanding Electrical and Computer Engineer award.