Jennifer Bernhard

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Jennifer Bernhard
Jennifer Bernhard

Q: What is your area of expertise?
A: Applied electromagnetics. Most of my group’s work is in the area of antennas, but we also have projects in sensors, high frequency circuits and devices, and electromagnetic packaging.

Q: Give me a brief synopsis of your education and career.
A: I earned my BS degree at Cornell, and MS and PhD degrees at Duke University. I was an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire before I moved to this position at Illinois in 1999.

Q: Why did you become an electrical engineer?
A: I became an electrical engineer because I enjoyed math and physics in high school. Then, in college, I had a wonderful professor who studied electromagnetics and made the whole subject click for me.

Q: Tell me about a research accomplishment you’re proud of.
A: A couple of years ago my students and I won a prestigious award from the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society for the best applications-oriented paper published in the IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation for the year (2004 H. A. Wheeler Applications Prize Paper Award). I’m proud of that work not only because it won an award but also because that paper was a good example of our work as a whole in that it provides real, useful information based on theoretical and experimental results that engineers in the field can apply in their own products. To me, this is what engineering research is all about.

Q: What are you focused on today?
A: Many of my projects right now are in the area of reconfigurable or multifunction antennas. These antennas provide more functionality than typical fixed antennas by changing their operating frequency, radiation characteristics, or both, depending on system and environmental requirements. We also have projects in wireless sensors and sensor systems, which depend heavily on antennas and electromagnetic wave propagation to perform well. Finally, we have collaborative projects with researchers in environmental engineering, civil engineering, and general engineering here on campus as well as several collaborations with faculty at other universities across the country.

Q: What kinds of systems use the antennas you develop? 
A: Our antennas are intended for use in small portable wireless devices like PDAs, cell phones, and laptops, as well as large arrays to enable high-performance communication systems on satellites or large vehicles. Remember, every wireless system needs at least one antenna!

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: I really enjoy interacting with students and watching as they develop an appreciation for the beauty, elegance, and impact of electromagnetics. One of my favorite things about being a faculty member is that I get to witness the moment when students make that first critical connection between concepts that allows them to synthesize their own unique solution to a problem and start to think like engineers.

Q: What made you want to go into teaching?
A: I became a faculty member because I enjoy teaching and I also enjoy the freedom to conduct research on topics that I find interesting and important. My mother was a school teacher, and my father was an engineer, so I think it was just natural for me to do both.

Q: What role do students play in your research?
A: Students, both graduate and undergraduate, are really the engines that make the research go. My research group, which right now consists of 12 grad students and three undergrads, is very collaborative and interactive. People are always helping and teaching each other, which makes all of our research move forward more rapidly than if everyone were working independently. Plus, we have a lot of fun.

Q: What technology that’s currently under development are you most anxious/excited to see completed?
A: There are two actually. The first is a reconfigurable antenna with integrated RF MEMS switches that promises to have superior performance over existing designs. The second is a passive electromagnetic sensor system that could be used in everything from adjacent excavation research (which translates very loosely to “what happens when you dig a hole next to a building”) to granular particle flow investigations (which could include drug and food processing as well as sediment movement in rivers).

Q: What does the future hold?

Of course, the future for my group will be very busy! Besides all of our ongoing projects, we’re in the midst of setting up a new anechoic chamber that will allow us to investigate not only antennas but also wireless protocols and communication schemes in a scientifically reproducible environment. We also have a unique bit error rate measurement system for antennas that we will be using to evaluate the true system-level performance of all of our antennas. This is especially important for us as we move forward with reconfigurable antennas, because system designers need to be able to clearly see the significant performance benefits of these antennas before they will specify them in new products.

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