About Shannon

Claude Elwood Shannon – short biography

1916: Claude Shannon is born in Petoskey, Michigan, EUA, on April 30th (a Sunday). He lived, in his first years, in the city of Gaylord, where he showed an inclination for science and mathematics and also for inventing various types of devices.

1932: Shannon graduates from Gaylord High School and enters the University of Michigan.

1936: Shannon obtains the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Bachelor in Science in Mathematics. This happy connection would already prove to be extremely relevant in his MSc. work. In the same year, after reading an announcement, Shannon decides to accept the position of research assistant at the MIT. He started to work with Vannevar Bush’s differential analyzer, and develops a particular interest for the control circuits of the device, which were based on relays.

1936 – 1938: The work on the relay circuits associated with Bush’s analyzer, together with his already mentioned broad scientific background, arises in Shannon the perception of the intimate connection between switching circuits and Boolean algebra. This connection was explored by him in his master’s thesis and in a paper that appeared in 1938. It was simply the starting point of the discipline known today as logical circuit theory.

1938: Vannevar Bush suggests that Shannon join the Mathematics Department of the MIT.

1940: Shannon is awarded the Alfred Noble Prize for his work on logical circuits. In the same years, he fulfills the formal requirements to obtain the S. M. degree in Electrical Engineering and the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics. During summer, he works at the Bell Labs on switching circuits.

1940 – 1941: With a National Research Fellowship, Shannon works at the famous Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton under the equally famous Hermann Weyl. During this period, Shannon is in the process of developing his ideas on efficient communication systems.

World War II and Afterwards: Shannon works at the Bell Labs in a team engaged in the task of developing more efficient anti-aircraft directors both for airplanes and missiles. Shannon would eventually spend 15 years at this famous laboratory, where figures like John Pierce, Harry Nyquist, Hendrik Bode and the trio Shockley, Brattain and Bardeen also worked.

1948: Publishes his magnum opus, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication”, which gives immediate rise to the field of Information Theory and establishes limits for data compression and reliable transmission. The beauty and the importance of this paper defy description.

1949: Uses the 1948 framework to study the problem of cryptography in another classical work “Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems”. Marries Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Moore, with whom he has three children, Robert, Andrew and Margarita.

1950: Becomes a pioneer of the fields of artificial intelligence and computer chess with the work “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess”. In the same year, he builds the system known as Theseus, which is a contribution both to machine learning and to autonomous robot navigation.

1956: Works as a visiting professor at the MIT.

1957 – 1958: Works as a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Behavioral Sciences (Palo Alto).

1959: Becomes Donner Professor of Science at the MIT.

1972: Concludes his affiliation with the Bell Labs.

2001: Dies on February 24th.


N. J. A. Sloane, A. D. Wyner (eds.), Claude Elwood Shannon: Collected Papers, Wiley – IEEE Press, 1993.