James William Cooley

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1926 - 2016
James William Cooley, 89, of Huntington Beach California passed away on June 29, 2016. He was born in 1926 in New York, New York. He was one of three children born to Anna Fanning and William Francis Cooley. After graduating from Grover Cleveland High School, he served in the Army Air Corps in 1944-1945 in Bakersfield. Under the G.I. bill, he attended college and received a B.A. degree in 1949 from Manhattan College, Bronx, NY, an M.A. degree in 1951 and a Ph.D. degree in 1961 in applied mathematics from Columbia University, NY. He was a programmer on John von Neumann's computer at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, from 1953 to 1956. He worked on quantum mechanical computations at the Courant Institute, New York University, from 1956 to 1962, when he joined the Research Staff at the IBM Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY. During his employment at IBM, he took a one-year sabbatical teaching at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Upon retirement from IBM in 1991, he joined the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, where he served on the faculty of the computer engineering program. After a full retirement, he split his time between Naples Florida and South Kingstown Rhode Island. His last 3 years were spent in Huntington Beach California. Jim was preceded in death by his wife, Ingrid Uddholm Cooley, and is survived by his 3 children and 8 grandchildren.
His most significant contribution to the world of mathematics and digital signal processing is the Fast Fourier transform, which he co-developed with John Tukey (see Cooley–Tukey FFT algorithm) while working for the research division of IBM in 1965. The motivation for it was provided by Dr. Richard L. Garwin at IBM Watson Research who was concerned about verifying a Nuclear arms treaty with the Soviet Union for the SALT talks. Dr. Garwin thought that if he had a very much faster Fourier Transform he could plant sensors in the ground in countries surrounding the Soviet Union. He suggested the idea of how Fourier transforms could be programmed to be much faster to both Cooley and Tukey. They did the work, the sensors were planted, and he was able to locate nuclear explosions to within 15 kilometers of where they were occurring. The development of the FFT allowed is considered as the dawning of the digital era, allowing computers and microprocessors to quickly convert analog signals into digital data, and vice versa.
Dr. James William Cooley was a member of the Digital Signal Processing Committee of the IEEE, and was later awarded a fellowship of IEEE for his work on FFT. In 2002 he received the IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal. He considerably contributed to the establishing of terminology in digital signal processing.
A service will be held in Charlestown, Rhode Island in the end of August. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that charitable contributions be made in his name to the ALS Foundation.
Published on NYTimes.com from July 6 to July 7, 2016
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