Two international societies honor Lakhtakia’s electromagnetics, materials work

February 2, 2024

By Lauren Colvin

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Evan Pugh University Professor and Charles G. Binder Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics, was awarded two recognitions by international scientific societies. SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, named Lakhtakia the 2024 SPIE Gold Medal recipient, the highest honor bestowed by the society. Additionally, Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society, selected Lakhtakia as one of its 2023 fellows.  

Established in 1977, the SPIE Gold Medal award is given annually to one person in recognition of accomplishments in optics, photonics, electro-optics or imaging technologies or applications. Previous winners include Nobel Prize winners Charles Kao, Zhores Alferov, and Charles Townes.  

According to the society, Lakhtakia received the award for his “pioneering research on electromagnetic fields in complex materials including isotropic chiral, bianisotropic, and composite materials, metamaterials, and nanomaterials.”  

“Akhlesh Lakhtakia is renowned for his groundbreaking contributions to the study of electromagnetic wave propagation through intricate materials,” said Vincent Meunier, department head of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State. “His work in the mid-1980s was crucial in establishing the domain of electromagnetics involving complex materials.” 

According to SPIE, Lakhtakia, who is a SPIE fellow, “played a leading role in founding the field of complex-material electromagnetics.” He received two lifetime achievement awards in 2022: the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Radio Club of America, the world’s oldest wireless engineering society, and the SPIE Smart Structures and Materials Lifetime Achievement Award. Lakhtakia served as the inaugural editor-in-chief of the SPIE’s Journal of Nanophotonics from 2006 until 2013.  

“When I look at [Lakhtakia’s] prolific career spanning more than 40 years, I find that he was one of the few electromagnetics and optics researchers who recognized before 1985 that major future developments would come through research on complex and engineered materials,” said SPIE Fellow and Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist and Electroactive Technologies Group Supervisor Yoseph Bar-Cohen in SPIE’s press release. “I have worked with many highly skilled researchers for a long time now, and I know and recognize excellence. With his innovative and key accomplishments in optics and electromagnetics, Akhlesh Lakhtakia embodies excellence.” 

Lakhtakia is one of two Penn State recipients for SPIE awards this year, with Iam-Choon Khoo, the William E. Leonhard Professor of Electrical Engineering, receiving the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award in Photonics. 

Sigma Xi is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. The fellow distinction is given on a competitive basis to active members for “for exceptional contributions to Sigma Xi and the scientific enterprise,” according to the society’s website. Contributions to research, outreach, teaching, mentorship, science advocacy or leadership are among the nomination criteria.  

“Akhlesh is a figure of inspiration in fundamental engineering research and education,” Meunier said.  “His ability to interweave complex theoretical concepts with practical applications has not only advanced engineering research but has also ignited a similar passion in his students, shaping future innovators and thought leaders in engineering.” 


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