American University of Beirut

Fawwaz Ulaby

In a career marked by cutting-edge innovations and discoveries, Fawwaz Ulaby (BS '64) has changed how we view the world. His pioneering research in the area of radar remote sensing has been foundational, informing theory and practice. An inspirational teacher and mentor, he is a firm believer in the power of education to transform and transcend.

Born in Damascus, Syria, Ulaby grew up in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. After studying physics at AUB, he went to the University of Texas at Austin where he earned a PhD in electrical engineering (1968).  Ulaby began his academic career at the University of Kansas and then moved to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he has worked for over 30 years. In 2008-09, Ulaby served as founding provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the King Abdallah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, before returning to the University of Michigan.

His groundbreaking contributions to the development of high-resolution satellite radar sensors have a wide range of applications, such as measuring soil moisture for agricultural use, tracking wind speeds over the ocean for shipping navigation, as well as monitoring sea ice distribution and the world's forest canopy cover to help model and predict future trends in climate change.

Ulaby has directed many interdisciplinary projects for NASA, particularly in relation to radar mapping of the Earth. In the early 1970s, Ulaby helped design the first radar to fly on a satellite for Skylab, the first US space station. He also served as founding director of the NASA-funded Center for Space Terahertz Technology at the University of Michigan. In 2000, Ulaby received the William Pecora Award from NASA and the Department of the Interior for shaping the direction of the space program in microwave remote sensing.

At the University of Michigan, Ulaby is currently the Emmett Leith Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and previously served as vice president for research (1999-2005), in charge of a research budget of nearly $1 billion. In 2014, he was named Henry Russel Lecturer, which is the university's highest honor for a senior faculty member.

He has received a plethora of teaching awards, including being named Professor of the Year for Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2013 by the Eta Kappa Nu honor society. A prolific researcher, he is the author of 16 books and over 700 journal articles and book chapters. His textbooks are used in hundreds of universities around the world and he has campaigned to make engineering textbooks more affordable to low income students.

In 1995, Ulaby was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest professional honors for engineers. He is a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and received the prestigious Thomas Edison Medal (2006), the IEEE Education Medal (2010), and the Millennium Medal for Outstanding Achievements and Contributions (2000). He was awarded the Kuwait Prize for Applied Science (1987), the Arab Thought Foundation Award (2008), and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from AUB's Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (2006).

Proud of his heritage, Ulaby is chairman of the advisory board of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and was named Arab American of the Year in 2014 by the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). He and his wife Jean Cunningham support many causes in the US and Middle East, including the Fawwaz Ulaby Endowed Scholarship at AUB.

Ulaby says of his undergraduate education at AUB: “It opened my eyes to so many fields—from philosophy to physics—and that's what enabled me to succeed later on in life." ​

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