Tom Sikina will give the plenary keynote at EDI CON USA 2016, reflecting on innovation in the development of phased arrays.
“Antennas are often considered as a little triangle at the end of a complex system chain, when in reality there is often at least as much complexity and capability encased in that little symbol as in the rest of the system.”
Innovation is a major focal point at EDI CON USA 2016, which will bring together industry leaders to discuss creative ways to address today’s engineering challenges in RF, microwave, and high-speed digital design. Tom Sikina, principal engineering fellow at Raytheon Co. will be giving the plenary keynote this year, “Innovation in Phased Arrays; Past, Present, and Future” on Tuesday, September 20th. In advance of Tom’s talk, I thought it might be interesting to get to know him better, so I asked him to help kick off our Profiles in Innovation series.
Microwave Journal (MWJ) How did you get interested in engineering?
Tom Sikina (Sikina): Like many young people, I wanted to understand how the world worked, although much of our world has changed since then. There’s always been a keen interest to understand the fundamentals behind an observed effect. Engineering has consistently offered answers, theories, and possibilities to pursue.
MWJ: Do you have any advice for new or aspiring engineers?
Sikina: That would be to follow your dreams and ideals to make this a better world. New and aspiring engineers are like the springtime awakening of the plant world but their impact is in the world of thought and discovery. Just like plants in spring, we should welcome them and celebrate their interests.
MWJ: You are planning to talk to the EDI CON audience during your plenary keynote about the history of invention as it relates to phased arrays. Why did you choose this topic?
Sikina: The topic of innovation is interesting from several aspects, and it seems valuable to consider it from the perspective of engineers as conscious innovators. Do we know how to cultivate innovation? What has kept us from being masters in the world of innovation in the past?
MWJ: What are people’s biggest misconceptions about antenna design?
Sikina: Antennas are often considered as a little triangle at the end of a complex system chain, when in reality there is often at least as much complexity and capability encased in that little symbol as in the rest of the system. Phased array antennas are sometimes considered black magic, but in reality are often the equivalent to the complexity of rocket science.
MWJ: What has surprised you most in terms of technology developments during your career?
Sikina: It has been a steady surprise to see that much of the innovation that we discover today has been available to us since the dawn of time. Many innovations are essentially recognitions of physical laws, applied to the interests and problems of today’s society. The extent of human creativity in this respect appears to be without limit, whereas the physical world itself is quite limited; thus the ongoing element of surprise.
MWJ: What did you think we would be able to do by now that we still cannot (in terms of science or technology)?
Sikina: It has been a long-term interest of mine to see low-cost phased array systems in widespread use, similar to the development model for the personal computer. The PC of course, has largely displaced the notion of mainframe computers, and the world has benefitted from readily accessible computing power. I’d like to see a similar development in low-cost phased array sensors.
MWJ: Any funny stories from your time as an engineer?
Sikina: I think that almost every engineer has had a share of goofy or amusing moments at one time or another. After doing some excellent work on a complex simulation model, I once asked a young engineer and advanced studies student whether we could simply extend that work to a far more complicated stage within a week (a relatively short time period). Sensing a pause while this suggestion was being considered in some depth, I happily commented that we were overjoyed with the concurrence and would accelerate the schedule accordingly. The engineer did accomplish the extended task, even if it did take a bit longer than one week, much to the engineer’s credit.
The EDI CON USA plenary session begins at 4:30 PM on September 20, 2016 in Room 302/4 at the Hynes Convention Center, and is followed by a Welcome Reception for conference attendees at Fenway Park (badge and ticket required; all conference pass holders eligible). To register for EDICON USA: http://www.ediconusa.com. Use MWJREADER20 to save 20% on conference pass prices. EDI CON USA 2016 September 20-22, 2016, Boston, MA.