Henry Russel Lecture: Great ideas start very small; the challenge is in how to grow them
Fawwaz T. Ulaby, Emmett Leith Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Chen-To Tai Professor of Engineering, and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, has been named the Henry Russel Lecturer for 2014. The Henry Russel Lectureship is considered the University's highest honor for a senior faculty member, and recognizes exceptional achievements in research, scholarship or creative endeavors, and an outstanding record of teaching, mentoring and service.
Fawwaz Ulaby will discuss both pillars of his career, research and teaching, in the lecture. In the research section of his talk, he'll discuss the 30-year effort he's been involved in to use radar to measure the moisture and carbon levels of Earth's vegetation.
"Forests extract carbon dioxide from the air and transfer it into bark and roots," Ulaby said. "Quantifying this transfer on a global scale is important for understanding climate change and predicting long-term consequences."
Today, systems Ulaby pioneered fly aboard satellites operated by the European, Canadian and Japanese space agencies. NASA will launch another this year.
"This is a perfect example of long-term academic research that often spans multiple decades "” the kind of research that non-academic institutions are not likely to engage in, and yet it is important for understanding our planet and its environment," Ulaby said.
While technology has certainly been central to his career as an engineer and inventor, he has purposefully kept his classrooms low-tech.
"There has been so much emphasis over the past 20 years on using technology to "improve teaching,' often at the expense of what students need the most from a top-quality educational institution "” namely direct face-to-face interaction between the instructor and the students," Ulaby said. "Technology can be an aide, but not a substitute to human interaction."
Prof. Ulaby is an internationally renowned researcher in the fields of terahertz technology and microwave remote sensing. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1995, "for contributions to the science and technology of radar remote sensing and its applications." Election to the NAE is one of the highest professional honors bestowed on engineers. He received the IEEE Edison Medal in 2006, "for pioneering research in microwave and radar remote sensing technology and their environmental and industrial applications." The Edison Medal, named after Thomas Alva Edison, is the most prestigious award given in the United States and Canada recognizing meritorious accomplishments in the fields of electronics and electrical engineering. His research resulted in more than 700 scientific papers and 15 books.
As a leader in the professional community, Prof. Ulaby's influence has been far-reaching. He served as founding President of the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, as Editor-In-Chief of the Proceedings of the IEEE, and as Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan. More recently, he was founding Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. He received the NASA/Department of the Interior William Pecora Award for shaping the direction of the space program in microwave remote sensing.
In addition to his service to the professional community, he serves on the National Academies Committee on Human Rights, which works to free scientists, engineers, and health professionals around the world who have been detained or imprisoned for exercising their basic human rights.
Prof. Ulaby's stellar record as an educator is well known in the community. Among the 15 books he authored is the textbook Applied Electromagnetics, which is now in its 6th printing and adopted by literally hundreds of engineering departments around the world. His most recent book, Circuits, is being used at many of the top engineering institutions in the country. His books have been translated into several languages, including Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese.
He received the IEEE James H. Mulligan Education Medal in 2012, "for contributions to undergraduate and graduate engineering education through innovative textbooks, dedicated mentoring of students, and inspirational teaching." Earlier this year he was named 2013 HKN Professor of the Year for Electrical and Computer Engineering by undergraduate students in the department – which is the second time he has earned this award. He also received the national HKN C. Holmes MacDonald Outstanding Teaching Award in 1975.
Throughout the course of his career, he served as thesis advisor to 115 graduate students, many of whom are leaders in academia and industry. The positive impact he's had on his graduate students and on the undergraduate students who've taken his courses or benefited from his textbooks will be felt for generations to come.