In Memoriam: Paul Baran MS ’59 laid the foundation for the Internet

Mar 28, 2011

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Paul Baran MS ’59, a distinguished engineer, inventor and entrepreneur whose best-known invention of packet-switching laid the technological foundation for the Internet, has died. He was 84.

Baran received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Drexel University in 1949, and his master’s degree in engineering from UCLA in 1959 while also working at Hughes Aircraft Company.

Following his move to the RAND Corporation in the early 1960s, Baran developed the concept of dividing information into “message blocks” before sending them out across a network. Each block would be sent separately, then rejoined into a whole at their destination. This concept was first developed during the Cold War for keeping U.S. telecommunications infrastructure intact following a “first strike.”

Baran left RAND in 1968 and co-founded the Institute for the Future, a not-for-profit research group specializing in long range forecasting.

He was also a prolific inventor, creating several new technologies. In all, he founded seven start-up companies, five of which went public.

Baran received much recognition and many honors for his accomplishments, including the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2008, election to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007, and election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1996.

In 2009, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science awarded Baran with the Alumnus of the Year Award, the school’s highest honor.

“Paul was one of UCLA Engineering’s most accomplished and influential alumni,” said Dean Vijay K. Dhir. “He was a brilliant engineer, whose technical vision and detailed concepts on packet switching left a great legacy.. And though he was well-deserving of the many, many honors he has received, Paul was always modest, humble and a role model for engineering excellence.”

Baran’s seminal “On Distributed Communications” series of papers is available online in PDF format at RAND.

News of Baran’s passing was carried in the obituary pages of the nation’s leading news organizations.

Main Image: Paul Baran with Gerald Estrin, Baran’s graduate advisor at UCLA, at the 2009 UCLA Engineering Awards Dinner.


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