Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 25
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  • Yuanxun Ethan Wang
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  • TATSUO ITOH 1940-2021


    TATSUO ITOH, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, passed away at home on March 4, 2021, at the age of 80. He led breakthroughs in the use of microwave and millimeter-wave frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum for electronics and communication technologies.

    In an illustrious career that spanned more than 50 years, Itoh was a prolific researcher who was among the world’s most influential in his fields of study. He headed the UCLA Microwave Electronics Laboratory, which conducts theoretical and experimental projects in micro-and millimeter waves for components of integrated circuits and in metamaterials. He authored or coauthored 48 books and book chapters, as well as nearly 1500 research publications in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. His works have been cited more than 63,000 times, according to Google Scholar. 

    Born in Tokyo on May 5, 1940, Itoh studied at Yokohama National University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering in 1964 and 1966. He moved to the United States to continue his education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and earned his PhD in electrical engineering in 1969. During his PhD study, he discovered the spectral domain method, a technique that allows quick solutions of micro-and millimeter-wave wave-guide properties and is now often implemented in electro- magnetics software.

    Upon completion of his doctorate he remained at Illinois until 1976, when he accepted a research post at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. The next year he moved to the University of Kentucky as an associate professor and in 1978 to the University of Texas at Austin, also as an associate professor. He was named the Hayden Head Centennial Professor of Engineering in 1981 and led a research lab that made several major breakthroughs in micro-and millimeter-wave research. Many of his designs have influenced researchers exploring terahertz frequencies.

    In 1991 he joined UCLA as the TRW Professor of Microwave and Millimeter Wave Electronics, and in 2003 he was named the Northrop Grumman Professor of Electrical Engineering. He continued to lead groundbreaking research in micro-and millimeter waves and their applications. In addition, he and his research group were among the first to exploit metamaterials (artificial materials that offer electronic properties not found naturally), in particular a class known as composite right-/left-handed structures, for miniaturized antennas and other components in communication chip technologies. The versatile antennas offered high transmission efficiency and low power consumption.

    Beyond UCLA he served the community as editor of IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques (1983–85) and founding editor in chief of IEEE Microwave and Guided Wave Letters (1991–94). For the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, he was very active on the US National Committee for the International Union of Radio Science, as an ex officio member (1988–96, 2009–11), delegate (1990), and member (2005–07); he was also appointed to the NIST Board’s Panel on Electronics and Electrical Engineering (2007–09) and the Committee on Army Basic Scientific Research (1984–88). And as an NAE member he served a 3-year term on the Electronics, Communication and Information Systems Engineering Peer Committee (2006–09).

    Itoh received numerous international accolades for his accomplishments, including election to the US National Academy of Engineering (2003) and National Academy of Inventors (2013), and an honorary doctorate from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He was a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and received its Third Millennium Medal (2000) and later Electromagnetics Award (2018) for “contributions to electromagnetic modeling, artificial materials, microwave electronics, and antennas.” The IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society, for which he served as president (1990), named an annual best journal paper award in his honor and bestowed upon him the Microwave Theory and Techniques Distinguished Educator Award (2000) and Microwave Career Award (2011).

    In 2014 the IEEE Transactions on Terahertz Science and Technology published an overview of Itoh’s life that covered his childhood in postwar Japan, his early interests in electrical engineering, his journey to the United States, and the evolution of his career.1 After his death, the society created an online tribute for colleagues and friends to share their memories of him.2

    Professor Itoh encouraged his students to think big and work hard, to venture out of their comfort zone, to keep up with the newest technology trends, and to appreciate both the history and the state of the art. He was advisor to more than 80 PhD graduates, 60 of them at the Samueli School of Engineering, where he was a beloved faculty member. Many  of his former students are faculty members at institutions worldwide, continuing his legacy as educators themselves.

    His students particularly appreciated his advice that “it is never possible for anyone to be a full-time worker as it is not possible for a person to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” He was also open minded and applauded his students’ innovations. In a workshop organized to honor his achievements, he said, “The best thing about being a teacher is that he can learn from his students without paying tuition.” Despite his giant presence in the community, he showed remarkable humility.

    Itoh is survived by Seiko, his wife of 51 years; son Akihiro; daughter Eiko; and three grandchildren.

    This tribute is adapted from the author’s original version published in IEEE Antennas & Propagation Magazine, Jun 2021 (p. 159). Readers may also be interested in a tribute published in IEEE Microwave Magazine, Jun 2021 (https://
    1 Siegel PH. 2014. Terahertz pioneer: Tatsuo Itoh “Transmission lines and antennas: Left and right.” IEEE Transactions on Terahertz Science and Technology 4(3):298–306.

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