Kamal Sarabandi honored as inaugural IEEE AP-S Legend of Electromagnetics

The newly established “Legends of Electromagnetics” program recognizes outstanding members of the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society for their impact on the field.
Kamal Sarabandi stands holding a gold medal in a red, velvet-lined box, next to Erdem Topsakal, who presents Sarabandi with an award certificate.
Kamal Sarabandi (L) receives the IEEE AP-S “Legends of Electromagnetics” Coin and certificate from Erdem Topsakal, Editor-in-Chief of IEEE AP-S Digital Communications. Photo courtesy of Michael Deering.

An uncle of Kamal Sarabandi’s childhood friend couldn’t know that he was sparking the career of an electromagnetics legend when he pointed out the tiny delay between a lightswitch and its corresponding lightbulb to a couple of ten-year-olds. That moment, however, has stuck with Sarabandi––now the Fawwaz T. Ulaby Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Rufus S. Teesdale Professor of Engineering––through decades of his distinguished research career.

“I wanted to know what that delay was for,” Sarabandi recalled with a laugh, “And ever since, I’ve been in the pursuit of electrons, trying to find out: where do they go, how do they go, what are they influenced by?”

For his significant contributions to the field, Sarabandi is being honored as a “Legend of Electromagnetics,” This new IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society (AP-S) program acknowledges and documents the hard work of awardees while inspiring early-career members to shoot for the stars.

Sarabandi is known for his innovations on applied electromagnetics and remote sensing, and he has made it a point to expand his expertise into a new application or specialty area every five years. Since earning his PhD at Michigan in 1989, he has collaborated with NASA to improve imaging from space, demonstrated that individual cells communicate through electromagnetic radiation, and developed advanced radar systems that can map a room through a wall or read text through an envelope.

I am grateful for this recognition and hope that our achievements will inspire the next generation of IEEE AP-S members to strive for greatness in their endeavors.

Kamal Sarabandi

Radars developed by Sarabandi and his research group over the years enabled the first high-accuracy topographical map of Earth’s surface––as well as measurements of soil moisture, vegetation, and snow––from space. Miniaturization of radar systems allowed robots to map underground structures and fracking pipelines, ensuring the safety of workers and communities. These same radars are being applied to autonomous vehicles, giving them the ability to track other vehicles and road hazards even under weather conditions like fog, smoke, or snow.

Sarabandi’s innovations have often pushed the boundaries of electrical engineering. For example, some of his early work developed dielectric resonators and full-duplex antenna systems by 3D printing ceramics and metals before 3D printing technologies existed. He has applied electrical engineering techniques to physiology and been inspired to innovate new technologies based on biological phenomena, especially during his time as Director of the Center for Objective Microelectronics and Biomimetic Advanced Technology (COMBAT).

A gold medal engraved with the text KAMAL SARABANDI LEGENDS OF ELECTROMAGNETICS and a portrait of him.
The Legends of Electromagnetics Coin that Kamal Sarabandi received from IEEE AP-S at the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium features a portrait of him. Photo: Kamal Sarabandi.

“Whenever I think back about any of my discoveries or… a problem I was able to solve, even if it was 25 years ago, still when I recall it, so many dopamines come out!” Sarabandi said. “It makes me happy.”

Sarabandi’s many scientific discoveries have previously been recognized through his election to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He has received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the IEEE Electromagnetics Award, the IEEE Judith A. Resnik Award, the Humboldt Research Award, and the U-M Rackham Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award.

Kamal Sarabandi discusses his journey to electrical engineering, his many scientific breakthroughs, his philosophies for research and work-life balance, and more.

Sarabandi has also received accolades for his excellence in teaching, mentoring, and service to his academic communities. He received the IEEE GRSS Education Award and wrote Foundations of Applied Electromagnetics as part of U-M’s collaborative free textbook initiative to increase accessibility of engineering education.

“Students are the most important component of any educational system or professional society––these are the people who would be carrying on the torch from us to the next generation,” he said. “Any investment we can make into students is extremely important.”

Sarabandi and his students have published over a thousand peer-reviewed journal and conference papers, earning 34 best paper awards. He has co-founded four companies, including EMAG Technologies, and holds 27 patents.

Four men in suits stand and present the IEEE AP-S "Legends of Electromagnetics" medals. The medals are gold and they are held in red, velvet-lined boxes.
The inaugural “Legends of Electromagnetics” display their coins. Left to right: Piergiorgio L.E. Uslenghi, Kamal Sarabandi, Yahya Rahmat-Samii, and Constantine A. Balanis. Photo courtesy of Michael Deering.

Sarabandi has served in several leadership positions, as President of the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, Director of the Michigan Radiation Laboratory, and Chair of the USNC URSI Commission F. He also sat on the NASA Advisory Council.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to have been chosen as one of the inaugural members of the IEEE AP-S ‘Legends of Electromagnetics.’ This distinguished program recognizes individuals who have consistently demonstrated excellence in technical expertise, educational contributions, industrial impact, and service leadership within the realm of IEEE AP-S,” Sarabandi said. “Being celebrated among such illustrious peers for my contributions is a source of immense pride. I am grateful for this recognition and hope that our achievements will inspire the next generation of IEEE AP-S members to strive for greatness in their endeavors.”

Read more about Kamal Sarabandi and his research group.