Commemorating the Co-Creator of the L-Z Algorithm
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 10 February 2023

Abraham Lempel, the Israeli computer scientist who is the L in  LZW, has died at the age of 86. His work on lossless data compression algorithms is the basis of the ZIP file format and the many compression technologies in use today.

Lempel was born on February 10, 1936 in Lwów, Poland, which is now Lviv in Ukraine. He began his studies at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology located in Haifa in 1959 and by 1967 had gained a BSc, an MSc and a D.Sc. He stayed on at Technicon where he taught electrical engineering and computer science at the Technion and served as the dean of the Taub Faculty of Computer Science between 1981-1984. In 1993, he was recruited by Hewlett Packard (HP) and established its first operation in Israel a year later managing until 2007, during which time HP registered eight patents in his name in the U.S.

ziv lemel

Lempel's work on data compression was done at Technicon in conjunction with Jacob Ziv (on the left above). Together, in 1977, they published "A Universal Algorithm for Sequential Data Compression" in the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory (May 1977). The paper outlined LZ77, the first version of the Lempel-Ziv algorithm, which was followed up the next year with LZ78. As explained in the IProgrammer article Data Compression The Dictionary Waythe 1977 paper started the whole subject of dictionary compression but, although it was a very theoretical  paper, it is an elegantly simple technique.

These algorithms and their derivatives, notably LZW  published by Terry Welch in 1984 as an improved implementation, formed the basis of several data compression formats that are in current use such as TIFF, PNG, ZIP, and GIF, and played a central role in PDF (for documents) and MP3 (for music) formats. In 2004, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) named the algorithms a historic milestone in electrical and electronic engineering.

Lempel and Ziv were the recipients of the 1997 Paris Kanellakis Award for their pioneering work in data compression and of the 1998 Golden Jubilee Award for Technological Innovation from the IEEE Information Theory Society for the invention of the Lempel-Ziv universal data compression algorithm. Lempel was also awarded the 2007 IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal.

lempel wiki

 Abraham Lempel (photographed in 2007)

February 10, 1936 - February 4, 2023



More Information 

Israeli grandfather of MP3 passes away at 86

Related Articles 

Jacob Ziv Awarded IEEE Medal of Honor For Data Compression

Data Compression The Dictionary Way - ZIP

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Last Updated ( Friday, 10 February 2023 )