March 21, 2023
ITS electronics engineer Dr. Robert T. Johnk, named a Life Senior Member of the IEEE based on his sustained and lasting contributions to the IEEE EMC Society, was selected as a Distinguished Lecturer of the IEEE EMC Society for the 2023–2024 year. Dr. Johnk, who retires from ITS this month, will be available to give invited talks at IEEE EMC chapter meetings around the world on his technical work in radio propagation measurements and Public Safety communications.
Asked about the locales where he might be invited to lecture, Dr. Johnk initially names Singapore, the UK, Germany (he studied in Aachen as a high-schooler), Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
“The idea is education,” he says, adding that the lectureship is “a version of completing unfinished business.” Dr. Johnk’s primary responsibility for the past two years has been to transfer knowledge and mentor new engineers in the art of radio frequency measurement science.
ITS Telecommunications Theory Division electronics engineer Adam Hicks describes Dr. Johnk as “the ideal mentor.” Says Hicks, “He is the unique individual who has the wealth of experience to make him a leader in his field, a willingness to share that experience, and the restraint to let a junior engineer figure it out for themselves. I will always appreciate Bob's candid demeanor and quick puns. I have learned a great deal from working with Bob and hope he’ll continue to take my calls wherever full-time retirement takes him . . . probably a ham radio shack somewhere nice.”
“I really loved working with and learning from Bob,” says ITS Telecommunications and Technology Planning Division computer scientist Joseph Parks, who worked with Dr. Johnk on the LTE Coverage Tool. “Bob has the greatest attitude of anyone I have ever worked with. If he was having a bad day and things were not going his way, he still had a great attitude. Bob was always welcoming, optimistic and cheerful—always willing to help, and has the expertise and knowledge to make an impact.”
Audiences for Dr. Johnk’s IEEE lectures will be listening to an engineer who has won multiple awards and best papers and has even developed an app available on Google Play—the LTE Coverage Tool—that allows anybody with an Android phone to measure general LTE coverage quality. Dr. Johnk has authored or co-authored 23 NTIA reports, 54 IEEE journal/conference articles, and 17 NIST reports.
Each of Dr. Johnk’s planned lectures speaks to practical applications. For example, his fourth talk, “Taking Your Measurements Underground,” might appeal to mining safety engineers, wireless engineers, and EMC engineers who want to better understand subterranean radio propagation issues. Talk 4 draws upon work Dr. Johnk completed in the spring of 2019 as part of a six-person team characterizing propagation measurements in an experimental coal mine in Pennsylvania. The underground measurement data provided context for a Challenge sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The work focused on predicting how far underground radio signals can travel at frequencies from 200 MHz—slightly higher than the public safety VHF band used by law enforcement—all the way to 6 GHz, a band frequently used for Wi-Fi. (The culmination of the three-year Challenge was featured in IEEE Spectrum in April 2022.)
Dr. Johnk is much admired by colleagues for his ability to plan and perform complex measurements, from careful experimental design to deployment of precision calibrated measurement systems. Nick DeMinco, a senior propagation modeling expert in the ITS Telecommunications Theory Division, cites half a dozen measurement campaigns led by Dr. Johnk that provided invaluable data for model validation. Measurement methods designed by teams Dr. Johnk has led have been widely disseminated as best practices in the field and the resulting “truth data” has been used to validate a wide range of propagation models. In addition to his mentoring role, for the past several years Dr. Johnk has continued to support a number of research programs as a subject matter expert in the areas of line-of-sight, diffraction, and troposcatter propagation.
The EMC Society honors cap Dr. Johnk’s 33-year career as he prepares to retire on March 25, 2023. When he’s not travelling for EMC lectures, he’ll be entering his ham radio shack at 8 a.m. each day to check the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS), a remote network of radios around the world. And he’ll maintain the same reading diet: IEEE’s EMC conference digest, its Antennas & Propagation Magazine, and its Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine.
Born and raised in the Centennial State, Dr. Johnk received his Ph.D. degree in 1990 in Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he specialized in electromagnetics, propagation, and antennas.