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Special Report
New Faculty Members

 April 1999

 

 

 

A Passion for Outer Space

 

A passion for outer space led Jeremy Allnutt to almost every continent on Earth.

As a very young boy in east Africa, he saw an airplane fly overhead. "From then on, I was enraptured with anything that flew or went into space," he said. "I wanted to understand and see everything possible about space." Determined to work "on space or in space," he studied electrical engineering. "With EE, you could go many places."

After earning a Ph.D. in 1970, Allnutt took a position with the Radio and Space Research Station, which was part of what was then the United Kingdom's Science Research Council (SRC). "There was 'space' in the title, so I went," he commented. His team designed and constructed six small earth stations for satellite-to-ground propagation experiments at frequencies above 10 GHz.

That began an almost 30-year career in satellite communications that included two years at Bell Northern Research Laboratories (now NorTel), in Ottawa, Canada, and 15 years with INTELSAT, in Washington, DC. His experience reflects the history of satellite communications, including an 18 GHz thin-route terrestrial radio system, work with C-band (6/4 GHz), Ku-band (14/11 GHz), and Ka-band (30/20 GHz) satellite systems, and studies involving direct video broadcasting and wireless local loop telephony. He has worked with earth stations that ranged in size from 30 meters to today's very small aperture systems of half a meter or less.

It was his radio-propagation work at INTELSAT that set Allnutt travelling. As communications satellites moved to higher frequencies, the quality of transmission became an issue. "The higher the frequency, the more likely it becomes that transmission will be impaired, particularly by rain," Allnutt explained. "Rain fade is most significant for DBS and Ka-band transmission."

"We needed to determine whether the impairments were different in the tropics than other parts of the globe. Therefore, we needed to establish a database around the world for propagation models. We put experiments on every continent except Antarctica, in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, England, Finland, Austria, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, and Peru."

Allnutt even has a story of "the one that got away." A "so carefully set up" 15-foot antenna in Hong Kong was ripped off its mountings during a typhoon. During the eye of the storm, the site engineer snapped a photo of the antenna 400 feet down the hillside. "When the rest of the typhoon passed over, the antenna vanished. We think it is still in Hong Kong harbor."

During this time, he authored 70 of his nearly 100 papers, and wrote a book, Satellite-to-Ground Radiowave Propagation, published in 1989 by Peter Perigrinus Ltd., UK.

"My INTELSAT work proved a fantastic experience," he commented. "I cooperated with more universities than most people do in their lifetime. Many young Ph.D. students earned their doctorates on these experiments."

Following this long-time association with the academic world, Allnutt joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1996 as a visiting professor, having spent one year as Professor of Telecommunications Systems at the University of York in England. In 1997, he was appointed as a full professor assigned to the Northern Virginia campus in Falls Church. He teaches communications courses on-site in the ECpE graduate program there, and is continuing his research work in satellite transmission. One contract with COMSAT involves Faraday rotation on C-band links, and one with INTELSAT involves uplink power control on Ka-band links.

Allnutt has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1979 and has watched the region's communications and information technology community grow rapidly. Expansion of Virginia Tech's electrical and computer engineering program in Northern Virginia is a big advantage for the region, he believes. "There is such a need among industries here for more education and training in these fields. As the state's land-grant university, we need to provide learning opportunities statewide."

He is a strong supporter of the University's new Graduate Program in Information Technology (GPIT), which involves study in different modules of engineering, business, and arts and sciences leading to certification, and with three accumulated modules, a master's degree.

"Nowadays, so many people need to move into communications and information technology, that we need to develop programs for students with diverse backgrounds, including those who are not engineers," he said.
"We need to help businesses in the area develop the expertise and capability in communications and information technology. In the end, it's knowing the right questions. Most managers, if they ask the right questions, will get the right answers."

 

The Bradley Department
of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech


Last Updated, July 10, 1999
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