New PhD Fellowship honors memory of image processing and computer vision pioneer and longtime ECE faculty member Thomas S. Huang

6/26/2022 Laura Schmitt

On June 26, 2022, which would have been Huang’s 86th birthday,  several former members of his research group and his family announced the establishment of the Thomas and Margaret Huang PhD Fellowship in ECE. 

Written by Laura Schmitt

Thomas S. Huang was an internationally acclaimed researcher, mentor, educator, and beloved faculty member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department at Illinois for over 40 years, where he guided the work of more than 120 PhD students and postdoctoral fellows studying image processing, pattern recognition, and computer vision.

Thomas and Margaret Huang
Thomas and Margaret Huang

On June 26, 2022, which would have been Huang’s 86th birthday,  several former members of his research group and his family announced the establishment of the Thomas and Margaret Huang PhD Fellowship in ECE. Humphrey Shi (PhD 2017), Yong Rui (PhD 1999), Shuicheng Yan (Postdoc 2007), Chang Wen Chen (PhD 1992), and the Huang family have committed funds to initiate the Fellowship. The new Fellowship will support PhD students in the ECE department at Illinois.

The Fellowship is a fitting tribute to Huang. He and his late wife Margaret always treated members of his research group like family. In 2016, the ever-modest Huang paid tribute to his students during the celebration of his 80th birthday attended by over 70 of his former students.

“The one thing I have found over the years is [that] whatever I have accomplished, it’s entirely due to my students, so my career has really been the blessing of great students,” he said. “Mentoring students is the accomplishment I am most proud of.”

His research group made remarkable contributions to the development of techniques and algorithms for storing, retrieving and enhancing digital pictures and videos, enabling computers to recognize objects and faces, as well as to the development of virtual interfaces. For example, the technologies behind UHD TVs, Google Street View, and Zoom backgrounds can be traced back to his pioneering work.

Early in his career, his visionary work helped shape current practices in imaging and video processing. Before his work, there had been very few ways to store an image such as photographic negatives and video cassettes. His work was instrumental in developing compression standards for CDs, for example.

He was also a major contributor to the technical underpinning of current international fax, image and video-compression standards, which make it possible for people to store and transmit the massive amounts of multimedia data that we all encounter daily.

Born in Shanghai, China, Huang and his family moved to Taiwan in 1949. He studied electrical communication at the National Taiwan University (NTU), earning his bachelor’s degree in 1956. Also at NTU, he met Margaret and the couple emigrated to the US and married in 1959. They raised four children together.

He earned his Doctor of Science in 1963 from MIT, where he launched his faculty career. In 1973, he joined the faculty at Purdue University. In 1980, he was recruited to Illinois, where he became the first William Everitt Distinguished Professor in 1996; later he held the Maybelle Leland Swanlund Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering—a most prestigious university-level honor. In all, he contributed to more than 20 books and 1000 journal and conference papers.

He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering in 2001. That same year, he received the IEEE Jack Kilby Signal Processing Medal, the highest honor in the field bestowed by the world’s largest technical society. In 2002, he was named a Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. He was also a member of Academia Sinica.

The new Fellowship is the second endowed fund named after Huang in the Illinois ECE Department. In 2020, Thomas and Margaret Huang Endowed Professorship in Signal Processing and Data Science was established and is now held by ECE Professor Minh N Do.


(If you have questions about the new fellowship, please contact Kendra Wolf, Associate Director of Advancement for The Grainger College of Engineering, at 217-300-7297 or

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This story was published June 26, 2022.