On April 26, scholars from all over the world gathered at Villanova University to celebrate extraordinary innovation in the physics and technology of light.
The Franklin Institute Awards Laureate Symposium honored Nader Engheta, H. Nedwill Ramsey Professor in Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science. The event heralded the awards gala to be held on April 27, where Engheta will receive the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The symposium, titled “Sculpting Waves with Complex Materials,” explored the richness and breadth of Engheta’s impact.
In a glass-paneled lecture hall nestled between flowering dogwoods and limber pines, speakers attested to Engheta’s technical acumen and intellectual creativity, describing his pathbreaking work in light-matter interaction.
Andrea Alù, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York, Einstein Professor of Physics at the Graduate Center, CUNY and former Penn Engineering postdoctoral fellow, cited Engheta as “one of the original pioneers of the field of complex electromagnetic structures and modern metamaterials,” and the “father” of four influential fields: analog computing with metamaterials, plasmonic cloaking, non-zero-index metamaterials and optical nanocircuits.
Metamaterials, or natural materials engineered — via synthetic composites and altered geometries — to interact with light in ways no natural material could, are making inroads in fields as diverse as optical displays and sensing. These materials exhibit a range of fascinating and useful qualities, from performing computation to rendering devices invisible.
“Waves are all around us,” remarked Alù in a summary of Engheta’s influence. “Light, sound, thermal fluctuations, mechanical waves and seismic waves. They share common themes and are governed by similar laws of physics. All these fields benefit by trying to gain control of waves and Professor Engheta’s science has done a tremendous amount to advance them, as well as bring them into dialogue.”
Ahmad Hoorfar, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Villanova University and Engheta’s Franklin Laureate Sponsor, introduced a lineup of speakers to deliver technical talks on research enabled by Engheta’s science. Leaders in their fields, the list of speakers included: Andrea Alù (CUNY), Stefano Maci (University of Siena), Alan Willner (USC), Mathias Fink (ESPCI Paris) and Nobel Laureate W.E. Moerner (Stanford).
Vijay Kumar, Nemirovsky Family Dean of Penn Engineering, noted Engheta’s virtuosic gifts in both science and engineering, highlighting a career spent establishing fundamental principles as well as creating the technology required to use them to advantage.
“Nader’s contributions to his field comprise a breadth and impact that is not often seen from one individual,” said Kumar. “In addition, Nader is also one of the kindest and most engaging teachers and caring mentors that we have on our faculty.”
In his closing remarks, Engheta summarized his mission with characteristic ease.
“In order to do interesting things with waves, we need to tailor them. To tailor them, we need specialized materials, and that’s where metamaterials come into play.”
The 2023 Franklin Laureate then launched into a passionate list of ambitions for his field, which has grown from a mere theory to a phenomenon.
“Energy harvesting, water desalination, data science, synthetic biology, human-computer interaction, medicine, climate issues,” conjectured Engheta with excitement. “What if?”
Tune in live to watch Professor Engheta receive his medal at the Franklin Institute awards ceremony beginning at 7:00 p.m. EST on April 27 at www.fi.edu, or on the Institute’s Facebook or YouTube pages.