He found a way to map from a space-based radar the carbon that’s trapped in our planet’s forests. And he makes a point to meet with every one of the nearly 200 students in his entry-level engineering courses each semester.
Fawwaz Ulaby will discuss both pillars of his career — research and teaching — in his upcoming Henry Russel Lecture at 4 p.m. Feb. 4 in the Rackham Amphitheater. This lectureship is one of the university’s highest honors for a senior member of its active faculty.
Ulaby is the Emmet Leith Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. He is known internationally for his accomplishments in applied electromagnetics.
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.”
Before the lecture, the 2014 Henry Russel Award will be presented to three faculty members:
• Dragan Huterer, associate professor of physics, LSA.
• Scott Lyons, associate professor of American culture, and English language and literature, LSA.
• Thomas Wenisch, the Morris Wellman Faculty Development Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, College of Engineering.
The Henry Russel Award recognizes mid-career faculty members who have demonstrated an impressive record of accomplishment in scholarship or creativity, as well as teaching.