Steven Levy in Wired:
ERDAL ARIKAN was born in 1958 and grew up in Western Turkey, the son of a doctor and a homemaker. He loved science. When he was a teenager, his father remarked that, in his profession, two plus two did not always equal four. This fuzziness disturbed young Erdal; he decided against a career in medicine. He found comfort in engineering and the certainty of its mathematical outcomes. “I like things that have some precision,” he says. “You do calculations and things turn out as you calculate it.”
Arıkan entered the electrical engineering program at Middle East Technical University. But in 1977, partway through his first year, the country was gripped by political violence, and students boycotted the university. Arıkan wanted to study, and because of his excellent test scores he managed to transfer to CalTech, one of the world’s top science-oriented institutions, in Pasadena, California. He found the US to be a strange and wonderful country. Within his first few days, he was in an orientation session addressed by legendary physicist Richard Feynman. It was like being blessed by a saint.