The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering Welcomes Dr. Mehmet Kurum
"My work bridges the gap between theory and real-world applications. I believe very strongly that and it is part of my core philosophy that there is research in how to take things out of the lab and into practice. We do a lot of work developing algorithms, developing software in the lab, but it is always implemented on actual robotic platforms (e.g., drones, rovers, satellites) in the field." -Dr. Mehmet Kurum
What did you study in college and where did you earn your degrees?
I received my B.S. degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkiye, in 2003, followed by my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA, in 2005 and 2009, respectively. I also held about four years posdoctoral positions with the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA.
What brought you to UGA?
My research is interdisciplinary in nature and can prosper well within interdisciplinary research institutes. For me, it is really critical to expand not only within engineering across disciplines but also outside of the college of engineering. UGA offers the ideal environment for this kind of work. As Georgia's flagship institute and a land-grant university, there are lots of opportunity to collaborate people in agriculture, forestry and earth science, and its recent cluster of hires focuses particularly on interdisciplinary institutes addressing societal challenges like food, water, medicine, energy, and transportation. In addition, the UGA location is very interesting - it's close to Atlanta but not within the metroplex, providing ample opportunities to reach out high-density of tech industry located in and around the Atlanta region. There is also a direct flight from Atlanta to Istanbul, so family visits would be more convenient.
What are your research interests and what motivated you to pursue this area of study?
My research focuses on applied electromagnetics, particularly in the context of remote sensing for Earth Science, mainly within hydrology and biosphere. I've contributed to a range of areas, including RF sensor technology development, signal processing, RF data interpretation, and electromagnetic modeling of sensor measurements. This is a wide range of aspects of the overall remote sensing problem and speaks well the breadth of my interests and expertise. My work bridges the gap between theory and real-world applications. I believe very strongly that and it is part of my core philosophy that there is research in how to take things out of the lab and into practice. We do a lot of work developing algorithms, developing software in the lab, but it is always implemented on actual robotic platforms (e.g., drones, rovers, satellites) in the field.
My primary research interests aim to revolutionize microwave remote sensing technology by introducing next-generation ideas and technologies that are more spectrum-efficient, effective, and capable of addressing modern challenges in our crowded spectrum environment. I have a long-term goal of addressing the challenges of decreasing radio spectrum space for science and to open unusable portions of the spectrum into new methods for the science. Specifically, I'm motivated to repurpose existing communication and navigation bands to enable a myriad of practical solutions in precision agriculture, forestry, water conservation.
My motivation is driven by my commitment to provide reliable, timely, and accurate remote sensing information to the public. I believe that achieving this objective is possible by harnessing the surplus of active but currently unused satellite resources that orbit our planet. This vision aligns with my aspiration to make impactful contributions to advancing scientific understanding through accessible and effective microwave remote sensing techniques.
What current or new research projects do you currently have happening in your lab?
Well, I am a new faculty at UGA, and I am currently working on establishing my lab with a generous support by UGA, but in my previous institute, I have previously served as the principal investigator on a multitude of research grants funded by federal agencies such as DOD, NASA, NSF, and USDA for the past seven years. I am currently in processes of transferring some of those projects to UGA while securing brand new projects. I would say my research career has been shaped mainly by the NASA grants received during my graduate, postgraduate, and faculty studies. I have been involved in many NASA projects in remote sensing of the environment for my entire career. My current projects encompass development of ML-based retrieval algorithms and forward EM model simulations in support the NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), NASA-ISRO SAR Mission (NISAR), Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), and Signals of Opportunity P-band Investigation (SNOOPI). These projects are sponsored by Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST), In-space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVest), Terrestrial Hydrology (TH), Remote Sensing Theory (RST) programs.
Most recently, I received the 2021 NSF CAREER award to study recycling the radio spectrum for science with applications to UAS-based precision agriculture. The long-term research goal of my CAREER project is to open the radio spectrum, which is allocated to communications and navigation, for remote sensing by leveraging investment in “New Space” infrastructure, coupled with the widespread availability of smartphones and low-cost drones, to create a robust, affordable, and accurate decision-making system for UAS-based precision agriculture.
In addition, I am currently Co-PI of multi-institutional team that the NSF awarded under the Spectrum and Wireless Innovation enabled by Future Technologies (SWIFT) and a PI for another project supported by the NSF SWIFT - Satellite-Terrestrial Coexistence (SWIFT-SAT) program. In these projects, we investigate an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based cross-layer approach (across the application, medium access control, and physical layers) to facilitate radio frequency (RF) spectrum coexistence between active and passive users.
How long have you been an instructor in engineering and what inspires you to teach or do research in your field?
In a university setting, research is primarily a vehicle for teaching individuals how to creatively tackle complex problems. So, for me, one of the greatest things is not about the scientific discoveries that you make, but rather witnessing students grasp this process. Interacting with students is probably the most rewarding part of the job, and I believe that strength of the academia lies in the fertilization of ideas between different departments and individuals with different skills. In my teaching, I try to offer curricula blending research and practical applications, fostering a forward-thinking mindset in students through project-based learning. My previous research experience at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has allowed me to bridge the gap between abstract concepts and real-world problem-solving for students. Throughout my career in academia (about 7 years now), I've taken tremendous pride and joy in teaching and mentoring students, with a focus on advanced courses in applied electromagnetics and microwave remote sensing within electrical engineering.
What research accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
My proudest career moments occur when I reflect on the successes of my students. I've had the privilege of working with and mentoring highly talented Ph.D. and M.S. students as a major professor. Over the past seven years, I've supervised the graduation of four Ph.D. and four M.S. students. After the graduations, they started to work at prestigious institutes such as NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Raytheon. Notably, three of my Ph.D. students received NASA graduate fellowships in 2018, 2021, and 2023. These fellowships are very competitive and the awards are granted to less than 15% of applicants from multitude of disciplines in STEM. Additionally, one of my students earned the prestigious college-wide Best Research Award in 2021. These remarkable accomplishments are a testament to their hard work and dedication. I am so excited to see what is going to happen in the next decade for them.
What skills do you think are most important for students to succeed in engineering and what methods do you use to ensure the students you engage with learn the skills they need?
My foremost advice to students is to establish a thorough grasp of fundamentals before their graduation.
What is one of your favorite inventions (so far!) and why?
I have a passion for bringing satellite RF technology into the hands of ordinary people to foster access to reliable, timely and accurate information to manage their own lands. One of the most effective ways one can monitor water is through the adoption of satellite technology in our daily lives where it is affordable and usable by everyone everywhere. Smartphones (without any additional hardware) can be used as GNSS receivers through the use of their internal antennas and GNSS chipsets in order to perform remote sensing of the environment. For the first time, we integrated smartphones into a multi-copter UAS platform, which has flown over water bodies and agricultural fields. It was the first demonstration that reflected GNSS signals received via a smartphone device from a small UAS can be used to sense land features. Smartphone integration in the remote sensing system is a means for removing the entry barrier for mass adoption of the technology developed through our research.
What excites you the most about engineering?
I am most excited about contributing engineering solutions to address societal challenges.
What do you like to do in your pastime / hobbies?
I greatly value spending quality time with my family outside of work, so most my pastime activities revolve around my family. It's incredibly fulfilling for me to witness and be a part of the journey as my children grow and develop over the years.