Nader Engheta

Nader Engheta, Ph.D.
Electrical Engineering
Benjamin Franklin Medal

University of Pennsylvania | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


For transformative innovations in engineering novel materials that interact with electromagnetic waves in unprecedented ways, with broad applications in ultrafast computing and communication technologies.

Nader Engheta is passionate about waves. Not the kind you surf or sail, but those that course through the air and lie within both the visible and the invisible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Engheta is a scientist who wants to understand these waves, explore with them, and discover how to use them in new and inventive ways to create novel tools and capabilities.

His fascination began as a boy in Iran, when he marveled at a transistor radio and how it could pull voices and music from the air. His curiosity about the invisible waves that made it possible drove him to become one of the world’s leading researchers in electronics, optics, and metamaterials, which allow electromagnetic waves to be used and manipulated in formerly impossible ways. Their potential applications expand beyond conventional electronics to include photonic circuits, nanoelectronics, and cutting-edge communications, computing, and military applications. 

The materials we encounter every day have certain properties that typically distinguish them from one another—glass is smooth, metal is hard, wood is porous. What if it were possible to engineer artificial materials that combine to display properties not found by the component materials in their natural forms? This is the realm of metamaterials, a discipline in which new material structures with novel functionalities can be created at the structural level of organization to be used for specific and sometimes highly unusual purposes, particularly in advanced electronics, nanotechnology, and computing applications. Engheta is a trailblazer in this field, showing how to create materials capable of amazing things—even including a form of invisibility.

By synthesizing materials tailored for specific electromagnetic properties, scientists such as Engheta are achieving incredible things that mirror visions of science fiction and fantasy. One is called "plasmonic cloaking," which allows certain wavelengths of light to bend around an object coated with types of metamaterials, rendering them effectively invisible. It's not quite the "cloaking device" seen in TV shows and movies, but it can sharply reduce the wave interaction with an object, making it harder to detect, or cut down on interference between two closely placed radio antennas by making them "invisible" to each other.

Engheta's work ranges far beyond these unusual possibilities, however. One of his best-known contributions is in "extreme parameter" materials, in which particular electromagnetic properties are reduced to near zero or even less than zero in ways not found in nature. These epsilon-near-zero (ENZ) and mu-near-zero (MNZ) metamaterials, exhibiting refractive index near zero, are ideal for the creation of extremely efficient waveguides and other components for photonic circuits that can manipulate light at the nanoscale. Engheta has also invented "omega" structures with a wave refractive index less than zero, allowing the extreme miniaturization of optical devices. Such technologies open up exciting new prospects for computing, communications, and other applications that are extremely difficult or impossible with traditional electronics. His "optical metatronic" circuits can operate as nanooptical analogues of much larger conventional electronic circuits, using far less energy and taking up far less space. His work has also led to new advances in biotechnology and medical imaging. All of these innovations result from Engheta's highly creative approaches to controlling the interactions of light and matter in previously unrealized ways.

Born in Tehran, Nader Engheta completed his undergraduate work in Iran before moving to the United States to earn his graduate degrees at Caltech. He worked as a senior research scientist at Kaman Sciences Corporation for several years and then joined the University of Pennsylvania faculty in 1987. In the ensuing decades, he has built an extraordinary reputation both as an educator in four different Penn departments and as a world-class researcher and innovator in electronics, metamaterials, and optical sciences. His influence as a scholar and mentor to generations of young scientists and engineers in their work, and as a distinguished investigator in his own right, is equaled by few others, if any.

Engheta's preeminence and the significance of his contributions have been recognized not only by his professional colleagues but many others, such as Scientific American magazine, which in 2006 named him as one of their "50 Leaders in Science and Technology." He is a fellow of eight scientific societies, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and holds honorary doctorates from a number of international universities. As a holder of 25 patents, his technical innovations have been recognized by election to the U.S. National Academy of Inventors and the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and he also holds the Institute of Physics’ Isaac Newton Medal and Optica’s Max Born Award. As an educator, he has been honored with a number of prestigious teaching awards.

Starting from a childhood fascination with a device as ordinary as a transistor radio, Nader Engheta is pioneering the frontiers of innovations that will transform our computers, phones, and other everyday devices. The engineering visions of Nader Engheta will be part of tomorrow's realities. 

Information as of March 2023