Section V: Tech Transfer and More

Tech Transfer and Ties to Industry

Throughout its history, it has been typical for ECE faculty to maintain close ties with industry. It was rare, however, for ECE faculty to start their own companies and remain faculty members until the 1990’s. Since that time, there has been a marked increase in this activity, a trend that roughly follows the University of Michigan’s support of tech transfer, and the emphasis on entrepreneurship nationwide.

When Stephen Forrest, one of the department’s most prolific inventors, joined the University as Vice President for Research, a position he held between 2006 and 2013, he initiated several key processes that have helped make Michigan one of the leading institutions in the country in the area of tech transfer. Forrest had already started five companies and authored about 280 U.S. Patents.

The Center for Entrepreneurship, established in 2008, expanded the resources available to students in this area. ECE students regularly compete in and win business competitions, take courses on entrepreneurship, join student-run groups such as MPowered, and start companies either while at the University or after they graduate.

The division of Electrical and Computer Engineering is one of the leading groups in the University in the generation of intellectual property, if not the most prolific. Since 2000, ECE faculty have authored 389 U.S. Patents, and submitted 959 technology disclosures (a first step to patenting or licensing). Currently, the faculty collectively have authored 791 U.S. Patents. Four faculty (Stephen Forrest, Mohammed Islam, Khalil Najafi, and Kensall Wise) have all received the U-M Distinguished University Innovator Award since its inception in 2007. 

The companies founded by ECE faculty are as varied as the field itself: from circuits and microsystems, to MEMS, electromagnetics, medical devices, optics and lasers, and sensors. Since 1990, the following companies have been co-founded by ECE-affiliated faculty, students, and researchers: Picometrix, EMAG Technologies, Inc., AccuPhotonics, Inc., Integrated Sensing Systems, IntraLase (acquired by Abbot Medical Devices), Xtera Communications, Inc., ElectroDynamic Applications, Inc., HandyLab Inc. (acquired by BD), Sensicore (acquired by GE), Celeste Optics, Inc., Quantum Signal, LLC, Discera, Inc., Translume Technologies, Mobius Microsystems (acquired by IDT), Picocal, Sonetics Ultrasound, Evigia Systems, Inc., MEMStim, NeuroNexus Technologies, Accuri Cytometers, Omni Sciences, Inc., Opteos, Inc., Arbor Photonics (acquired by nLIGHT), ePack, Inc., PhotonAffinity, LLC, Ambiq Micro, Crossbar, Advanced Fiber Sensors, Inc., Arborlight, LLC, Xondas, Inc., PsiKick, CubeWorks, Inc., Movellus Circuits, Graphene Vision, LLC, and Stryd.

Research in the 21st Century

The 21st century is the era of interdisciplinary research. Working with specialists on related but different fields is widely accepted as being critical to addressing society’s needs in areas as diverse as transportation, manufacturing, energy, climate, and healthcare. The National Academies Press issued a report in 2004 entitled Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, that is a “call to action” to increase collaborative practices in science and engineering. James Duderstadt provided guidance on the project, and the University of Michigan was exemplified for facilitating the funding of interdisciplinary research in 1998.

Interdisciplinary research is a value deeply embedded in ECE research. It was a core value of CUOS in the 1990’s, and WIMS in 2000’s. Systems faculty frequently work with faculty in other disciplines, as do faculty in Electromagnetics and Circuits. The Biomedical engineering graduate program initiated within ECE, and biomedical research continues to be core to much research in ECE. One example of new interdisciplinary research programs is Somin Lee’s study of bioplasmonics – a field sitting at the intersection of nanotechology, medicine, biology, optics, and chemistry.  

Within the University of Michigan, a new program called M-Cubed was created to foster collaboration across disciplines. Seed money is given to approved projects that involve three faculty from different departments. Faculty in Electrical and Computer Engineering are involved in more projects than most, if not all, other single units.

In an attempt to encourage greater collaboration even within ECE, Prof. Najafi has recently worked with faculty to establish nine key research areas within the department (Signal Processing; Devices, Materials and Nanotechnologies; Control and Robotics; MEMS and Microsystems; Power and Energy; Optics and Photonics; Electromagnetics; Communications; Integrated Circuits). The former labs and centers still exist, but faculty are expected to meet regularly with others having the same research interests, regardless of their historical lab or center home. The goal of this new structure is for faculty to increase their knowledge of other areas, join forces to tackle similar problems, and take advantage of the synergy of increased diversity in research. 

Education in the 21st Century

Institutions of higher education must justify their existence now more than ever before. The rise of massive open online courses (MOOC’s) has called into question the value of an expensive university education. Yet more so than with many other disciplines, the education of an electrical and computer engineer benefits from the brick and mortar experience. The study of electrical and computer engineering requires labs with state-of-the-art equipment. It requires the ability to work in teams to take advantage of complementary knowledge in the workplace.  

The undergraduate programs in electrical engineering and computer engineering offer extreme flexibility, especially compared to other departments in the College of Engineering. Students have the freedom to select more than 40 of the required 128 credit hours needed to graduate out of a wide range of courses and disciplines. Electrical engineering offers nine different senior capstone design courses for students. Enrollments in electrical engineering and some computer engineering courses are strictly limited due to the labs associated with the courses; each student must be able to work at their own station. Team projects are prevalent in the curriculum. As of 2015, faculty are reviewing the undergraduate curriculum to determine whether it can be improved even further to better serve the needs of students.

Advanced education has always been core to electrical engineering, and remains so today. Today’s ECE graduate program at Michigan even exceeds the undergraduate program in size. 2015 is the first year of the newly reorganized graduate program in “Electrical and Computer Engineering.” Ever since the departmental merge in 1984, ECE students could major in either Electrical Engineering or Electrical Engineering:Systems. Some faculty were in favor of retaining these two programs, especially since the Systems degree had its own unique world-wide reputation. However, the increased flexibility inherent in the new program outweighed those concerns. A key goal in the new program was to remove any barriers to collaboration and facilitate student movement between areas of research that were previously defined by two different programs. 

The new graduate program adds additional areas of concentration at the Master’s level, and offers complete freedom at the PhD level to select an area of concentration with the student’s advisor. The nine areas of master’s level concentration are: Applied Electromagnetics & RF Circuits; Communications; Computer Vision; Control Systems; Embedded Systems; Integrated Circuits & VLSI; MEMS & Microsystems; Optics & Photonics; Power/Energy; Robotics; Signal & Image Processing , and Machine Learning; and Solid State & Nanotechnology.

Enrollment numbers as of 2014 are 314 undergraduate students in electrical engineering, 214 undergraduate students in computer engineering, 326 master’s students, and 281 doctoral students. 

Following are a few examples of how the curriculum has evolved in order to adapt to the needs of society and emerging technology.

The course, Embedded Control Systems, was introduced in 2000 at the urging of Detroit’s “Big Three” automotive manufacturers. This senior/first year graduate level course prepares students to work at the interface of electrical and computer engineering.  Prof. Jim Freudenberg helped design the original class, and now teaches the course at ETH Zurich in Switzerland as well. He also directs the interdisciplinary professional graduate program in Automotive Engineering.

WIMS faculty launched an interdisciplinary professional graduate program in Integrated Microsystems that ran from 2001 to 2014, directed by Yogesh Gianchandani. By 2007, five new courses in microsystems had been developed. One of these undergraduate courses, “Introduction to MEMS,” is now offered nationally and internationally. 

In 2002, Prof. Mohammed Islam offered the first course in patent fundamentals for engineers. He is founder or co-founder of several startup companies, has more than 100 patents to his name, passed the Patent Bar Exam, and is a registered Patent Agent. He currently co-teaches the course with patent attorney and alumnus Thomas Lewry.

New courses in power and energy have been added during the past 7-8 years to reflect the research of the three primary faculty in this area. They include topics in the Grid, Power Systems Markets, Power Electronics, Power System Distribution, Dynamics and Control, and Alternative Energy.

New courses are continually created in response to evolving technology, and they are being created faster than ever. Just in the past year, 18 special topics courses were offered by ECE faculty.


Throughout the history of the department, ECE faculty have enhanced the education of ECE students and professionals through the writing of books and textbooks. There is no way to be comprehensive in this survey, but following are some of the highlights, either because they reveal the state of the art, or because of their influence:

1895: Electrical Measurements: A Laboratory Manual, Henry S. Carhart and George W. Patterson. 12 editions were published between 1895 and 1900.

1915: Principles of Dynamo Electric Machinery, Benjamin F. Bailey

1916: Alternating-Current Electricity and Its Applications to Industry, Henry H. Higbie, co-author. 

1930: Generating Stations – Economic Elements of Electrical Design, Alfred H. Lovell. This book had at least 4 issues.

1932: Electric and Magnetic Fields, Stephen Attwood 

1937: Fundamentals of Engineering Electronics, William Gould Dow. This classic textbook on electronics remained a standard for many years. A second edition was issued in 1952.

1955: System engineering: An introduction to the design of large-scale system, by Harry H. Goode. This was the first book on the topic.

1965: Nonlinear Electron Wave Interaction Phenomena, Joseph E. Rowe. This graduate level textbook was a standard in the field.

1971:  Linear Operator Theory in Engineering and Science, co-authored by Arch Naylor. 2nd printing in 2000.

1993: Semiconductor Optoelectronic Devices, Pallab Bhattacharya. This textbook was the first true introduction to semiconductor optoelectronic devices. It is still used around the world, and is its second edition.

1981-1986: Microwave Remote Sensing: Active and Passive, by Fawwaz Ulaby, co-author. This 3-volume set remains the most widely used books in the field, both for graduate students and professionals. It is considered a classic in the field. 

1997: Fundamentals of Applied Electromagnetics, by Fawwaz Ulaby, Eric Michielssen, co-authors. This textbook changed the way Electromagnetics was taught at the undergraduate level and is the most widely used textbook on the subject. It is now in its 6th edition.  

2003: Electronic and Optoelectronic Properties of Semiconductor Structures, Jasprit Singh. Prof. Singh authored 10 books.

2004: Encyclopedia of Modern Optics, edited by Bob D. Guenther, Duncan G. Steel, and Leopold Bayvel.  5 volumes. Guenther and Steel were asked to generate a greatly expanded second edition scheduled for publication in 2017.

2005: Statistical Analysis and Optimization for VLSI: Timing and Power, co-authored by Dennis Sylvester, and David Blaauw. This is the first book summarizing the state-of-the-art in the emerging field of statistical computer-aided design (CAD) tools.

2007: Comprehensive Microsystems. Yogesh Gianchandani, co-editor-in-chief. 3 volumes.

2007: Feedback Control of Dynamic Bipedal Robot Locomotion, Jessy Grizzle, co-author. This book enabled other researchers to duplicate Prof. Grizzle’s research.

2008: RF Technologies for Low-Power Wireless Communications, George Haddad, co-editor.

2008: Introduction to Discrete Event Systems, Stéphane Lafortune, co-author.

2008: Analog Signals and Systems, David C. Munson, Jr., co-author.

2008: Production Systems Engineering, Semyon Meerkov, co-author.

2008: Foundations and Applications of Sensor Management (Signals and Communication Technology), co-edited by Alfred O. Hero. Presents the emerging theory of sensor management.

2009: Circuits, by Fawwaz Ulaby and Michel Maharbiz (former faculty member). This undergraduate textbook reduced the cost by about 1/3 to students. Labs were devised that were dramatically less expensive than standard practice. Now in its third edition.

It is estimated that over half a million electrical engineering students have used the books authored by Professor Ulaby. He is the only individual in the history of the profession of electrical engineering to have published successful undergraduate textbooks on electronic circuits, electromagnetics, and signals and systems.  Prof. Ulaby authored 16 books in all.

2010: Lectures on Light: Nonlinear and Quantum Optics using the Density Matrix, Stephen Rand. 2 editions.

2013: Engineering Signals + Systems, by Fawwaz Ulaby and Andrew Yagle. This undergraduate textbook is designed to teach theory and applications, side by side. The second edition is due in 2016.

2016: Big Data Over Networks, by Alfred O. Hero, co-author.

Awards and Leadership

Our senior faculty have received many of the most prestigious awards in their areas of expertise.  Our junior faculty typically receive CAREER and other Young Investigator Awards. Many faculty are Fellows of one or more professional organizations; among active faculty, there are 59 Fellow titles held by 31 faculty.  

The current faculty have amassed an impressive number of teaching awards. Four of the faculty earned the title Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, which recognizes gifted teaching among other qualities. Thirty faculty have been recognized with 62 teaching awards, including national education awards, awards for graduate student mentors, and awards voted on by the students. 

Faculty members of the National Academy of Engineering include: Pallab Bhattacharya, Stephen Forrest, George Haddad, Mark Kushner, Fawwaz Ulaby, and Ken Wise. Emmett Leith received the National Medal of Science. Stephen Forrest is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Duncan Steel received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Current faculty have received the Thomas Edison Award, the Nanotechnology Pioneer Award, the IEEE Sarnoff Award, the Judith E. Resnik Award, the Daniel E. Noble Award, the MRS Medal, the Control Systems Technology Award, the Microwave Career Award, the Adolph Lomb Medal, the Medard W. Welch Award, the IEEE Daniel E. Noble Award for Emerging Technologies, the IEEE Sensors Technical Field Award, the Frank Isakson Prize for Optical Effects in Solids, the Solid-State Circuits Field Award, and many more. This list gives an idea of the breadth of expertise of the faculty.

These awards, posted on our website, are a testament to the impact ECE faculty have made on the discipline, and the quality of their teaching.

In addition to their history of award-winning accomplishments, ECE faculty have a long history of leadership in the field, both within the University and in the professional community. The department is proud of former faculty such as Joseph Rowe, Linda Katehi, Pramod Khargonekar, and Nino Masnari who left the department to become engineering Deans and take on even higher administrative positions (David C. Munson became Dean at Michigan). Many other faculty could have left for higher administrative positions. The department, College, and University have greatly benefited from their decision to stay at Michigan and make their mark here. 

In terms of national and international leadership, Prof. Ulaby served Provost and Executive Vice President at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia before returning to Michigan. Al Hero, Dave Neuhoff, Kamal Sarabandi, and Tom Senior served as president of national professional societies. Michael Flynn, Stéphane Lafortune, Wei Lu, and Eric Michielssen serve as editors-in-chief of major professional publications. Several faculty, including Yogesh Gianchandani and George Haddad have served as NSF program directors. 

Within the University in recent times, Fawwaz Ulaby and Stephen Forrest have served as Vice President for Research; Eric Michielssen is Associate Vice President for Advanced Research Computing and Director of the Michigan Institute for Computational Discovery and Engineering; Al Hero is Co-Director of the Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS); Brian Gilchrist is Director of the College-wide Space Physical Research Laboratory (SSRL) and Director of the College-wide Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP); and Fred Terry is Director of the College of Engineering First Year Programs. Many faculty have served on national steering committees, chaired major national and international conferences, and as described above, many faculty have led, and continue to lead, major research Centers based at Michigan.


Creating a truly diverse and welcoming environment can be difficult to achieve in any setting. The problem is compounded when the setting is engineering – and even more so when the field is electrical and computer engineering. This is not just a problem at Michigan – it’s a challenge nationally. The pool is relatively small, and demand is great among engineering departments throughout the country. Nevertheless, there have been some bright spots in our history. 

The department hired the first African American faculty member, Leo McAfee, in 1971. As was made clear at his retirement party in 2010, just his presence in the classroom was enough to give hope and encouragement to underrepresented minorities in the program. Stories were shared of lives changed and a deep and abiding thankfulness for Prof. McAfee.

Lynn Conway was a faculty member in our department, and still a friend. Her story of being the hidden hand in what’s known as the VLSI revolution has been well documented. Lynn is one of the first Americans to undergo a modern gender transition. She now embraces what was kept secret for so long, and hopes to inspire others with her story.

Linda Katehi joined Michigan in 1984 and became Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the College of Engineering in 1994. She started a company with colleagues at Michigan. Prof. Katehi left to become Dean of Engineering at Purdue University in 2002. She became the first female provost and vice-chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and became the 6th Chancellor of the University of California, Davis in 2009. 

The first female faculty member, Janice Jenkins, was hired into the department in 1980. Prof. Jenkins was a Fellow of IEEE and the American College of Cardiology. She designed computer algorithms for detecting abnormal heart rhythms, specifically for implantable defibrillators. When asked specifically about her time here, she said, “I was always treated appropriately. No discrimination or any patronizing.” This has not been the experience for all female students and faculty throughout the history of the department. The faculty have been making a conscious effort to ensure that all students and faculty feel valued. 

At the current time, the ECE has nine women faculty in the ranks, more than at any other time in its history. But we only have one African American faculty member. It is a continual struggle to increase diversity, but the department chair is deeply committed to creating a more diverse environment.  It’s not going to change overnight, but it is changing already, for the better.

As part of the department’s initiative to celebrate the diversity of its student population, various events have been offered. These include a Diwali celebration for the Indian population, a Lunar New Year celebration for the Chinese population, and a celebration of Iftar for the Muslim population.


Students are not entering the field of electrical engineering in particular at the same rate as in previous decades. The situation is not as bad at Michigan as at many other institutions around the country, but it is cause for concern. The entire electronics industry is built on the work of electrical and computer engineers.

The problem seems to be two-fold. Students are unaware of what electrical engineering really is – and due to the emphasis on math and physics in the curriculum, students only see its reputation for being difficult. The latter problem can’t be helped, because the math and physics requirements are real. In order to educate the younger population about the exciting field of electrical and computer engineering, the department initiated a summer camp for high school students. Offered the first time in 2015, it was highly successful. Many students were ready to sign up for the following year. The program will be expanded in 2016.


The ECE division alone currently has about 16,000 alumni living across the U.S. and abroad. Most live in Michigan, followed by California.

Check out our Alumni Spotlights page to learn more about U-M ECE gamechangers.

Closing Remarks

The field of electrical and computer engineering today bears little resemblance to its late 19th century beginnings, when students were studying by kerosene lamps, electronics as a field was unheard of, and all devices could be seen by the naked eye. While some basic principles are still recognizable, the field has grown exponentially in response to new science, technology, and societal needs.

Energy distribution was important in the early days of electricity. Its importance now is tied to the generation, collection and distribution of renewable energy. Engineers are still on a quest for the “better light bulb” – but are now exploring light emitting diodes and organic materials. Radio and telephone communication was mastered, but today the transmission is wireless, and includes much more than just sound as images, videos, GPS information and more are communicated between devices. 

Electronic devices and computers were not even on the horizon in the late 19th century, and now they are essential to modern life. Computers as tiny as a single hole in an early computer punch card have been built at Michigan, equipped with tiny sensors capable of gathering virtually any kind of information. And all that data being collected through computers and sensors requires advanced mathematical tools to decipher hidden meaning and patterns. Those hidden patterns could reveal a path toward improved healthcare, safer transportation, enhanced science, or could just help find your next favorite book or movie.

The relentless march to miniaturization has been orchestrated largely by electrical and computer engineers, promising a new era – the Internet of Everything. Every component that shrinks in size requires its own engineering involving new materials, new technology, and continued ingenuity. Electrical and computer engineers are also connecting those components and getting them to work together within a single device or within a wireless network comprised of many individual devices. Probes are being built the size of individual cells in order to make sense of the brain. Just as small are components built for computing and other devices – now measured in terms of individual atoms.

Ultrafast lasers will help us understand the universe; other optical and optoelectronic research holds the promise for new materials and devices as remarkable as LASIK surgery, another Michigan invention. The field has come a long way since the study of illumination in the early decades of the 20th century. Electromagnetics is as fertile a field today as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Maxwell’s theory of electricity and magnetism is still required study. Michigan faculty are world leaders in remote sensing and antenna design, both of which rest on electromagnetic theory.

Controlling cyber-physical systems, whether automobile safety systems, networked devices and systems, or even energy markets, is a hot new field that our faculty are actively investigating. Modern signal processing as a field of study didn’t exist until the 1950’s, brought on by Claude Shannon’s famous publication in 1948. It is now critical to communications, information processing, electronics, and medical diagnosis, to name a few applications. Nanotechnology, the study of materials and technology on the scale of 1 nanometer, was enabled through equipment able to deal with particles this small. First mentioned as a term in 1974, it is today core to much of the research occurring in the solid-state electronics laboratory. MEMS were first commercialized in the early 1980’s, when Michigan was solidifying their strength in this area.

New areas of study will continue to arise within the field. Electrical and computer engineers at Michigan are already actively exploring new frontiers, building the technology and devices to take us there, and educating the next generation of innovators.

Primary Sources

This historical survey borrows greatly from existing surveys, namely:

A History of Computing at the University of Michigan. Highlights from 1946 to 2012.

Benjamin Bailey, “A Brief History of the Department of Electrical Engineering,” 1944. Benjamin Bailey (BSE MS PhD EE 1898, 1900, 1907) was hired in 1899, and served as department chair for 22 years. The typed manuscript is found in the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Melville B. Stout and Alfred H. Lovell, “History of the Department of Electrical Engineering,” c. 1953. Much of the information duplicates Bailey’s article. Stout (BSE MSE 1922 ’24) and Lovell (BSE MSE EE 1909 1914 were both faculty members. Lovell served as department chair from 1945 to 1953. The typed manuscript is found in the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Richard K. Brown, The Department of Electrical Engineering: A 75-Year History (1895-1970). Much of the early history is taken from Bailey’s writings. He includes a survey of the labs. Includes many anecdotes about the faculty. Richard K. Brown (BSE MSE PHD EE 1940 ’41 ’52) was hired in 1947.

Anne Duderstadt, “College of Engineering: A Photographic History Celebrating 150 Years.” 2003. The Millenium Project.

James Duderstadt, “A 50 Year History of Social Diversity at the University of Michigan,” 2016. James Duderstadt was the President of the University of Michigan from 1988 to 1996. He currently holds the title of President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering.

Thomas B. A. Senior, The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: A Brief Overview (1970 – 2010), 2014. Prof. Senior’s history contains a wealth of information about faculty staffing, administrative appointments and activities, curriculum details, and degrees granted.

Thomas B. A. Senior, Radlab History. 2011. This detailed history includes information about the early beginnings at Willow Run.

Emmett N. Leith, “A short history of the Optics Group of the Willow Run Laboratories,” in Trends In Optics: Research, Developments and Applications, 1996.

Internal departmental reports.

University of Michigan press releases.

Memoirs and other information documented in the University of Michigan Regents Proceedings.

A variety of other source documents available online.