A Conversation with Vignesh Rajamani, Ph.D., President of IEEE EMC Society

Vignesh Rajamani, Ph.D., is an expert in the electromagnetic characterization and application of reverberation chambers with Exponent. A main thrust of his research and project experience with reverberation chambers has been towards increasing test accuracy. His expertise includes statistical electromagnetics, validation and optimization techniques for computational electromagnetics, communication system testing in complex multipath environments, electromagnetic interference and compatibility (EMI/C) issues with unmanned aerial systems, antenna systems and radio frequency (RF) design, and estimation probability of failure of electronic systems due to EMI/C.  In his role as a manager at Exponent, he assists clients with identifying the root cause of the failures of electronic systems and providing guidance on possible solutions, especially in the area of EMI/C.

Prior to joining Exponent, Dr. Rajamani was with Oklahoma State University as a visiting assistant professor, where he taught courses in engineering design and performed research on the probability of failure of electronic systems in harsh electromagnetic environments. He has also taught the reverberation chamber course at OSU for the past 10 years and served as subject matter expert for various standard bodies in addition to lecturing around the world on reverberation chamber test methodologies. He taught design engineering seminars for faculty and students at many universities focusing on challenges in engineering education and preparing the faculty to handle them by spreading a significant number of project-based learning (PBL) classes across the curriculum.

He is a senior member of IEEE and served as a distinguished lecturer for the IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Society (EMCS) for the term 2013–2014 and as vice president of member services from 2014–2020.  Dr. Rajamani is the current president of the EMC Society, where he along with the Executive Committee are focusing on refining and reshaping the educational offerings from the EMCS to enhance membership value.

In this brief interview, we discuss how he got involved in the EMC Society, why it is so important to bring more young people into these careers, and his plans for his term as president of the organization.

INARTE: Can you share with us a bit about your background, how you got into this section of your career, and your association with the IEEE EMC Society?

VIGNESH RAJAMANI: I started with the EMC Society as a graduate student. As I was going through grad school, my advisor Dr. Chuck Bunting, who was a member of the EMCS, recommended that I join. I presented my first paper there and then worked with different technical committees. I eventually got some leadership opportunities where I led some of those technical committees. After I completed my graduate degree, I got elected as a distinguished lecturer for the Society, which was a two-year role. In that position I had the opportunity to travel to different chapters around the world and lecture on reverberation chamber test methods. More importantly, it gave me face time with many chapter chairs, which set me up for the position of vice president of member services a couple of years later.

Around that time, the Society’s vice president of member services, Bob Davis, asked me to run for the position, as his term was ending. I hesitantly agreed because I didn’t know what was involved, but it just so happens that I got elected and I served in that position for six years. I then had the opportunity to run for the position of president of the Society and was honored to be elected by the board of directors of EMCS. I served as the president-elect during 2021 and will function as the president here in 2022 and into 2023.

To back up a bit, as most of you might know, the IEEE is the largest professional organization in the world. The EMC Society is one of 39 different technical societies within IEEE, each of which have a particular niche. We deal primarily with electromagnetic compatibility and electromagnetic interference. You might have heard about the 5G interference on radar altimeters in airplanes, which is a classic example of what electromagnetic compatibility or lack thereof can do to your systems. Depending on the application, it could be just a nuisance, but it also could be life-threatening when it involves medical devices or, in the case of 5G frequencies and radar altimeters in planes, it can take the form of loss of radar altitude information or worse, incorrect radar altitude information unknowingly being generated.

So, we are either looking at compatibility with other products or we deal with interference from other products. Sometimes, electromagnetic emission is intentional because you are trying to pass a signal from one place to another, but you want to do that with less noise. That’s where compatibility comes in, because you’re trying to make sure that what you’re sending from A to B is the signal, not the noise.

Vignesh Rajamani

I: All industry is graying now, so bringing younger people into technical fields like this one is critically important. What are some of the initiatives you want to undertake along these lines as the president of the EMC Society?

VR: My biggest motivation, going back to my days as vice president of member services, has been to ensure that students and young professionals are heavily involved in our organization. We have a Young Professionals group that has done some fantastic things in terms of networking, by bringing together some of the companies looking for new workers and students that are just graduating with some of the right skills. Part of the work I did as vice president of member services was to start a lot of student chapters, which is still very successful for us. The pandemic obviously did not help because it limited the in-person events we could hold, but we’ve been able to maintain these connections.

I should mention that I also have a background in working with students. I was a professor for six years of my life, so there is that connection with the students that I always enjoy. I’m old-school in wanting to have a presence in a classroom, being able to look the students in the eye and converse with them one-on-one. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do that in the past couple of years due to Covid, but our connection with the students has evolved through doing a lot of webinars and staying engaged with them in that way. Just to give you a quick example, we brought students in as volunteers to manage the question-and-answer session for our online 2021 Symposium. My biggest wish is to bring more students and young professionals into the EMC Society while also showing them and the existing membership the value of the organization.

The membership value should be a little bit more than just getting access to publications and papers. We have started to put our materials up on an online resource center. During the pandemic, we have created lots of video libraries and training materials, and we’ve also partnered with some of our key sponsors at the Symposiums, where they deliver technical content.

Forming closer ties with our industry partners is another major undertaking we need to consider. Of course, we want our partners to sponsor our events, but that’s not all. These organizations also house technical leaders who are making new products and working with new technologies, so we want them to be able to deliver content on the emerging trends that they are seeing and that our members should be aware of. In the past couple of years, we’ve been very successful in getting those individuals to deliver technical talks that have been extremely well-received by our membership.

So, to summarize, the goal is to increase the value of the membership and increase the communication between the leadership and the members, where we can hear their concerns and better understand what they want from the EMC Society.

I: Everything you mention there is analogous to what we are trying to do at iNARTE as well, in building a community where people know that they have colleagues that they’ve met through events, meetings, or even online chats. They then begin to help each other, maybe work on some projects, and answer each other’s questions.

VR: That’s right. None of us are going to know the answers for everything but being part of this Society and being part of this profession, you at least know who to call or who can point you in the right direction when those questions arise. That’s the important thing and what the students need to understand. I used to tell my students in class, just because I’m a professor does not mean I’m going to have all the answers all the time. Anyone who is expecting that is just barking up the wrong tree. What we need to do is be part of a network where we can easily find the information and connect with the right individual. That’s what a professional society like ours is going to be able to help you with.

I: Finally, I’d like to understand some of the other initiatives that you want to lean into for the rest of your term. What are some of your high-level objectives?

VR: First and foremost is to organize all the educational offerings we have in the Society. There are a lot of things we do at the Symposium, like our Global University, which has been very well-received. In addition to that, we are now planning some very topical master classes. We are trying to focus on some of the key learning objectives that young professionals and even mid-career professionals would benefit from. This could be an automotive track, for example, concentrating on how the electronics inside the car and the electromagnetic noise it generates might affect autonomous navigation, or it could be an aerospace track, delving into the topic we mentioned earlier regarding 5G interference with radar altimeters. These technologies are just getting more complex. Now we need to look not simply at the well-known issues, such as how to properly design your board or shield your cable. Today we are also putting a lot of sensors on one platform and oh, by the way, these sensors could also be wireless, which creates even more potential interference problems. It’s important for us to be able to look at these issues at a system level, not just at a component level. Of course, we must understand what the component-level issues are, but also look at the system level and see how we can achieve compliance. That requires a lot of resources and training, and as I said before, that doesn’t just mean one person coming in with a lecture and explaining how to do things. The community now is what’s most important and that’s what we are trying to build within the Society.

So, my near-term goal is to organize these things and work closely with the IEEE to provide opportunities for our members to learn and grow in their careers. Individuals can receive professional development credits for watching our videos and receiving training. Many companies looking to hire people in this space demand a certain amount of professional development hours. We give members an opportunity to do that in their home office or during their free time. We’re trying to do more and more of that. I do want to stress that this does not replace in-person interaction. If we hope to recreate online everything in a virtual world that a member will get at an in-person event, I think we’re kidding ourselves. The virtual event has its place, and the in-person event has its place, too. Going to the Symposium is not about just sitting through the papers, it’s about the face-to-face interactions that you get in the corridors and the conversations you engage in over a cup of coffee that triggers new ideas. It’s hard to replace that.

In moving forward, I’d like to utilize all the advantages we can offer our members. We will continue to do these advanced in-person events, like our 2022 Symposium coming up in Spokane, Washington, in August. We also want to be able to reach those individuals who cannot easily travel with lots of online offerings, too. It’s going to be a combination of approaches with a virtual platform and an in-person platform.

We also plan to partner with other technical societies within the IEEE, like the Antennas and Propagation Society or the Microwave Theory and Techniques Society, and with some non-IEEE organizations like the Electrostatic Discharge Society to enhance membership value and increase collaboration between the groups. We are also working in a proposal for a multi-society discount at the IEEE level.

Few of today’s technical problems can be solved by any single Society or group. These are multi-dimensional issues, so we all need to come together. We all have our own expertise where we can kind of lead the way, but it’s a team effort to solve many of these problems. We already have built some solid relationships, but I think we need to strengthen those relationships and build new ones so we can all move forward together.