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Pioneers in Tech: Joan L. Mitchell, co-inventor of the JPEG

Pioneers in Tech: Joan L. Mitchell, co-inventor of the JPEG

This week’s Pioneers in Tech looks at how today’s social media influencers owe much to Joan L. Mitchell, a self-professed “Sputnik baby” who came of age during the space race and ended up co-creating one of the file formats most of us use every day—the JPEG.

Born May 24, 1947, Mitchell grew up in Modesto, California, and graduated from Stanford University with a degree in physics in 1969. She then headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a master’s degree and a PhD in physics. This led her to the Exploratory Printing Technologies group at IBM, where she began a career dedicated to image compression.

In 1987, she joined the Joint Photographic Experts Group. This group was dedicated to solving a critical problem: developing a file type that struck the right balance in terms of size and image quality. After all, a data-rich image that can’t be printed or shared because it’s too large doesn’t do anyone much good.

The group standardized the color JPEG compression algorithm, and Mitchell served as the final editor of JPEG Part 1. She also co-wrote a book about JPEG in 1992. Mitchell later took a leave of absence from IBM to write a book about MPEG, which is the video companion to the JPEG.

Mitchell’s professional accolades include being named an IBM Fellow and an IEEE Fellow, as well as induction to the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering Hall of Fame. She passed away Dec. 2, 2015

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Photo: violetkaipa / Shutterstock

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