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Vera PlessBy Regina JacksonIt is fitting that coding theorists speak of Pless power moments for Dr Vera Pless is a woman who has filled every moment of her life in a very powerful way She has traveled as far as Korea Israel Australia and China to collaborate on math research and to speak at math conferences and seminars She has written over 120 papers and a popular coding theory textbook Introduction to the Theory of Error-Correcting Codes 3rd ed Wiley 1998 co-edited the whopping 2169-page Handbook of Coding Theory and is currently finishing an advanced coding theory textbook with W C Huffman She has worked as a pure mathematician at the Cambridge Air Force Research Laboratory as a full professor at the University of Illinoisand she even found time to raise three children One conversation with Dr Pless reveals a woman who is as friendly and engaging as she is unaffected by the dramatic impact she has had in the field of coding theory Her claim that that she has just been having fun is one of the most becoming features of both her personality and her story As the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants her parents were eager for her to take advantage of the educational opportunities that existed for her in the United States Due to her intellectual gifts her formal education was accelerated Her father encouraged her to leave high school after two years so that she could pursue a great books program at the University of Chicago She followed his advice despite the fact that it meant forgoing the opportunity to be the first cello in her high school orchestra She graduated from the University of Chicago in three years and subsequently pursued an MA at her alma mater Dr Pless is quite candid about the fact that she had no career aspirations early on Her path was serendipitous rather than deliberate One almost gets the sense that math chose her
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