It’s not every day that one of Princeton Engineering’s faculty members is interviewed in the Catalan language by Catalan TV — check out the embedded video interview at left with Sergio Verdú.

Verdú, a native of Barcelona, is a leading figure in information theory, the discipline at the interface between engineering and applied mathematics that drives innovation in many digital technologies. His research explores the fundamental limits of data transmission and compression systems. In 2007, Verdú became the youngest recipient of the Claude Shannon Award, the most prestigious prize in information theory, and also was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering.

In case you don’t happen to speak Catalan, take a moment to read this interview (in English) with Verdú, which was published a couple of years ago by the Institute for Mathematical Sciences. Verdú talks about his childhood in Spain, about his affection for the United States (with the exception of baseball), and his pioneering doctoral research in the field of multiuser detection, done at the University of Illinois under the supervision of  H. Vincent Poor, another leading researcher in information theory who is now dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering (Verdú was Poor’s second Ph.D. student). By the way, Poor is the co-recipient of a new National Science Foundation grant for research on the relationship between social and technological networks. His collaborators are fellow information theory expert Mung Chiang, sociologist Matthew Salganik, and political scientist Jacob Shapiro.

EQN can’t help but quote directly some of the gems that Verdú offered in the Institute for Mathematical Sciences newsletter:

On reconciling the two fields of mathematics and engineering:

"Strangely enough, they are not very different because the way you approach problems is essentially the same in both fields: going back to the basics. As much as I can, I always try to avoid carrying a bag of tricks that I can apply from one problem to another… Like the Zen philosophy says, in the mind of the beginner the possibilities are endless."

On the importance of mathematical training for engineers:

"Mathematical training is like wealth — nobody has enough of it."

On whether engineers focus on problems of practical concern to the exclusion of fundamental questions:

"Many of us who are working in theory are accused, more often than not, of doing exactly the opposite: of solving problems that are of no immediate practical concern and that may be relevant only in the distant future or never. Those of use who have followed in [Claude] Shannon‘s footsteps have an appreciation for beauty and elegance and for the fact that beautiful and elegant results sooner or later become practical."