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ElectroScience Laboratory welcomes new director Richard Ridgway

At the core of every engineer is a person trying to better understand the world, trying to solve problems facing society, or exploring a passion for the details in life through science and mathematics.

As the newly appointed director for the ElectroScience Laboratory (ESL) at The Ohio State University, Dr. Richard W. Ridgway has built a career at that intersection of joy and discipline.

“He has a strong record of innovation and system development,” said Dorota A. Grejner-Brzezinska, Lowber B. Strange Endowed Chair and Associate Dean for Research in the Ohio State College of Engineering. “I am confident that his decades of knowledge and experience and strong leadership abilities will ensure the continued success and forward momentum of the ElectroScience Laboratory.”

During a welcome event on Friday, September 14, Ridgway spoke to students and colleagues at ESL, located at 1330 Kinnear Road.

From better understanding the impact of global warming, advancing circuits and antennas, improving GPS capabilities and reducing the complexities of radar toward the future of autonomous vehicles, Ridgway said the work at ESL is important.

“ESL is one of the nation’s premier electromagnetic centers of excellence, trying to solve some of the most challenging of our nation’s problems,” he said. 

This semester, Ridgway said, ESL welcomes a total of 29 faculty and researchers, nine post-doctoral students and visiting scholars, 87 Ph.D. and master’s degree students, and 12 undergraduates. 

Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor Joel Johnson served as chair of the director selection committee. He said they were thrilled to recruit Ridgway for the role at ESL.

"His history of research leadership at Battelle and as a Program Manager at DARPA clearly demonstrated his technical expertise and ability at securing and managing major research programs," he said.

A longtime Columbus resident, Ridgway earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Ohio State, but spent his undergraduate years at University of Michigan, where he met his wife in the Ann Arbor residence halls.

“I ended up graduating in the golden years of electrical engineering, where you basically could work anywhere,” Ridgway said.

This freedom led them to Columbus to raise a family, he said, starting what would become a fulfilling 38-year career at Battelle Memorial Institute

As a senior research leader at Battelle, Ridgway was involved in the convergence of microwave, millimeter-wave and photonic components and systems, amassing 27 U.S. patents in the area. His work included involvement in two commercial ventures and a four-year stint as a Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The commercial ventures were directed toward optical telecommunications technology and his time at DARPA focused on the millimeter-wave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

As a child growing up in Detroit, with a father at Ford and older siblings in engineering, Ridgway said his future in technology was clear – but in what way?

At University of Michigan, he started as an undecided engineering major. 

“But I very quickly became intrigued by electrical engineering. I like circuits. I like building things. I always liked building things. Taking things apart,” he said. “All of the programs I had at Battelle over the years ended up with building something. I hope to bring that kind of focus here at ESL. We also do a lot of fundamental theoretical work, and that’s an important foundation to all that we do.”

Ridgway didn’t plan on going back to school.

“I call it my accidental Ph.D.,” he said. “I was already doing photonics, but didn’t know much about the fundamentals. It was an exciting new realm of technology within the communications boom.”

Hoping to learn more, Battelle ended up giving him a fellowship to complete his doctoral degree in electrical engineering at Ohio State.

The first commercial venture, Photonic Integrated Research Incorporated, started inside a few small laboratories at Battelle in 1987, through a collaboration with Mitsubishi and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone. The venture ultimately sold for $1.8 billion at the peak of the telecommunications boom in 2000. The second venture, Optimer Photonics, Inc., started as an optical telecommunications components company but morphed into a millimeter wave communications. At one point, the company held what was believed to be the world record in wireless data transfer at 10 gigabits per second over a distance of a kilometer. 

Eventually DARPA heard of this work and invited Ridgway to start some programs to advance millimeter wave technology. 

Ironically, he said, while earning his degree at Ohio State he never worked with ESL.

“I’ve always been aware of ElectroScience Lab. The subject areas of electromagnetics, remote sensing, photonics and radar, so nicely intersect with some of the things I’ve worked on. ElectroScience Lab has a broad base of nationally-recognized subject matter experts offering amazing insights for solving problems,” he said.

This is the key to where he hopes to take ESL into the future: Intersections. Combining two or more ideas or technologies to accomplish one goal. 

“My role here is to try and do that. To work with the faculty. To work with the research staff. To try to help them collaboratively solve problems,” he said. 

In this regard, Ridgway also wants to team up more with other organizations at Ohio State, whether through the ECE or Computer Science and Engineering departments, Aerospace Research CenterTransportation Research Center, or the Institute for Materials Research.

“What I learned at DARPA is that some of the most successful organizations were the ones that collaborated,” he said. 

The importance of ESL internationally, he said, does not escape him.

“Some of the best researchers I have met in the field of electromagnetics and microwaves came from ESL. I know of the pedigree and strength of this place and it’s exciting to be here to see if we can build on these strengths and foster collaboration with the researchers and faculty,” he said.

About ESL

The ElectroScience Laboratory is a major center-of-excellence in the College of Engineering and one of the largest radio frequency and optics research laboratories in the world.  Founded in 1942, the ESL is a multidisciplinary research facility where world-class faculty and research scientists lead state-of-the art exploration and engage in cross campus collaborations that provide superior training for graduate and undergraduate students.

Article by

Ryan Horns, ECE/IMR Communications Specialist