Faculty Profile, People
May 10, 2021
School of Engineering
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD, Electrical Engineering, University of Alberta
Master of Science, Mathematics and Engineering, Queen’s University
Bachelor of Engineering (First Class), Electrical Engineering, University of Victoria
“We’re very fortunate at UBC to be considered one of the leading telecommunication research institutions in the world.”
CONNECTING NUMBERS, EQUATIONS AND PACKETS OF INFORMATION is the basis of wireless communications — and it’s an area Dr. Julian Cheng thrives in. As a professor and program chair for electrical engineering at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering, Dr. Cheng ranks among the top two per cent of most-cited networking and telecommunications researchers (according to the 2020 standardized citation indicators report from Stanford University).
“We live in a very exciting time where communication continues to take different forms,” explains Dr. Cheng, who was recognized as UBC Okanagan’s 2021 Researcher of the Year (NSERC category). “At the root of my research is wireless communications which continue to transition from traditional radio signals to optical signals and beyond.”
Dr. Cheng leads the NSERC-/Canada Foundation for Innovation-funded Optical Wireless Communications Laboratory, where he and his team undertake fundamental and experimental research on optical wireless communication and traditional wireless theory.
“We’re always on the lookout for innovations to allow more databytes, or simply more information, to accommodate more users,” says Dr. Cheng. “That’s why we’re now investigating using deep learning techniques for designing massive multiple-input-multiple-output millimeter-wave systems and large-scale intelligent reflecting surface-aided communication systems.”
As he talks, Dr. Cheng’s cellphone buzzes and he turns his attention to the small screen. It’s an email from a prospective student in China. “We often take communications for granted, but as a researcher, we’re looking for new ways to make communication more effective and efficient by asking a simple question: is there another way?”
Dr. Cheng’s other research interests include advanced multiple access techniques for wireless communications, quantum communication, blockchain technology for Internet of things applications, joint sensing and communication, and optical wireless communications.
With collaborators around the world, Dr. Cheng has become a highly sought-after speaker on wireless optical technology and is the area editor for IEEE Transactions on Communications, a prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) telecommunications journal.
“We’re very fortunate at UBC to be considered one of the leading telecommunication research institutions in the world,” he explains. According to the 2020 subject rankings by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, UBC’s telecommunication program is number one in North America and number eight in the world.
Dr. Cheng is also heavily invested in his students; since joining UBCO, he has successfully trained eight doctoral students as principal supervisor and nearly 30 master’s students. The vast majority of his journal and conference publications are first-authored by his students.
“My students are phenomenal, and inspire me to continue to push the limits on what we think is possible,” says Dr. Cheng. Case in point: several years ago, Dr. Cheng and one of his students solved a mathematical challenge that had stumped researchers for more than 70 years.
As for the wireless communication Dr. Cheng is fascinated with, perhaps Guglielmo Marconi — the inventor of the wireless telegraph — said it best: “It is very dangerous to put limits on wireless communications.” Today, those limits continue to be stretched by researchers like Dr. Cheng.
“There is no doubt in my mind that future applications will be beyond our current imagination,” explains Dr. Cheng.