Dr. Vincent Harris, the recipient of the 2011 Klein University Lectureship, began his campus-wide address, Our magnetic society: The influence of magnetism from the iPod to cancer remediation therapies, by speaking of a substance he calls "exotic rust."
Harris, the William Lincoln Smith Chair Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, has devoted his life's work to forms of this "exotic rust." Among dozens of patents, hundreds of technical articles and numerous Fellow appointments, Harris' research earned him the designation of Distinguished Lecturer of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Magnetics Society, and, recently, the rank of Distinguished Professor - the highest honor Northeastern bestows upon a faculty member. These are in addition to the honor of delivering the Klein Lecture, an annual award given to a faculty member who contributes significantly to his or her field.
Because he is modest about his own accomplishments, it is fitting that Harris gave a humble name to Fe3O4, or magnetite, the small, naturally-magnetized, rust-like pieces of stone that lead ancient civilizations to discover and utilize magnets as compasses.
Drawing on this historical use of magnetic materials, Harris is developing "next generation electronics" that tend to be "smaller, cheaper and better...capable of integrating with other technologies leading to enhanced performance." Specifically, his labs work on antennas and other devices that send, receive and manipulate electromagnetic signals, including for defense and communication radar and for cellular phones.
Beyond these uses, magnetics play a role in hybrid vehicle motors, wind turbines, iPods and cancer remediation therapies. Northeastern is at the forefront of such technologies and is among world leaders in microwave magnetics, thanks in part to the Center of Microwave Magnetic Materials and Integrated Circuits that Harris established in 2004.
Among the Center's successes, researchers created what is now the fifth most powerful magnet in the world; when China tightened the limits on exporting rare earth metals - for which it controls some 97% - Northeastern took the lead in creating a magnet that does not rely on these metals for raw material. Dr. Harris credits Northeastern's "tremendous work environment" for enabling him to help build "one of the best centers of microwave magnetics in the world."
In another testament to his humility, Harris lists his students' productivity and research as one of his most proud achievements. Since 2005, they have published 93 peer-reviewed journal articles and have gone on to lucrative careers in industry and academia. "We have a unique student experience," Harris says, "there really are no other students in the U.S. who come out with an expertise in materials sciences as well as in electrical engineering, so they tend to find jobs very easily and tend to be enormously successful."
In addition to the 8-12 graduate students Harris works with at any one time, he also works closely with at-risk urban teenagers to expose them to engineering. In the past five years, high school students have published 10 articles in peer-reviewed journals.
For these efforts, Northeastern Provost Stephen Director lauded Harris at this year's Klein Lecture for his ability to "address real social problems," to "involve graduate students" and for "putting us on the map.
Harris, who considers himself a "triple Husky," holds three degrees from Northeastern University, a M.Sc. from the University of Maryland and a M.Sc. from the University of Pennsylvania. Since he began his studies at Northeastern, Harris' 27-years as an engineer, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur and teacher have made him a prominent authority on the possibilities of magnetic technology.
Yet, in the way he considers ferrite substances to be "exotic rust," he continues to marvel at the subject of his expertise. "The mystery of magnetism, explain that to me!" Harris said during his lecture, quoting von Goethe, "no greater mystery exists, except love and hate."
The Klein University Lectureship was established in 1964 and was renamed in 1979 in tribute to Mathematics Professor Robert D. Klein. A faculty committee consisting of former Klein lecturers and representatives from the Office of the Provost and Faculty Senate Agenda Committee select each year's recipient.
Dr. Harris' Center for Microwave Magnetic Materials and Integrated Circuits (CM3IC) aims to "revitalize the field of microwave magnetics by increasing the number of well-trained students, engineers and scientists." More information can be found at http://www.cm3ic.neu.edu/index.htm.
Submitted by Beth Giudicessi, May 2011