Tribute to Professor J. A. Kong
by Prof. Weng Cho
Chew, Speech in Memorial Service of PIERS2008 Hangzhou, March 26, 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues and Friends:
Professor Kong's sudden departure both shocked and saddened us. I was looking
forward to seeing him at PIERS 2008 in Hangzhou and alas…
I have known Professor Kong ever since I was a freshman at MIT in 1973.
He was also my Freshman Advisor at MIT. Being new to a foreign culture and
a foreign country, Professor Kong was the kindest and the most approachable
professor I knew. He was also helpful and inspiring in to his undergraduate
It was a well known fact among MIT students that he was a marvelous teacher.
He taught us what it meant to be a good classroom teacher. For those of us
who become teachers in our career, we try our best to emulate him in our teaching...
I went on to study electromagnetics with Professor Kong, a subject that I
have studied and love for the rest of my life. Professor Kong taught us diligence,
dedication, and thoroughness in our thinking. He always encouraged us to work
on something new, and be a trailblazer. This legacy, we carry with us for
the rest of our lives and pass onto to our students.
I have always enjoyed his PIERS meetings organized by him as it brings about
electromagneticists from different parts of the world, as well as from different
disciplines (engineering, physics, optics, mathematics).
Professor Kong personally made immense contribution to the electromagnetics
community. His contributions will be remembered, and he will be badly missed.
Professor Kong made outstanding contributions to the basic electromagnetic
theory of moving media. He also made fundamental contributions to the theory
of anisotropic media, bianisotropic media, and moving bianisotropic media.
In fact, he invented the word “bianisotropic” in his work. After joining MIT,
he pursued work in the quantization of electromagnetic field and Cerenkov
radiation, and then in the application of electromagnetic theory to remote
sensing and many other applications. Since then, he had contributed significantly
to remote sensing theory and applications, plus many application areas.
His work won best paper awards and outstanding research award. For his contributions
in the remote sensing area, he has been given the Distinguished Achievement
Award from the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society for year 2000 and
was given the IEEE Electromagnetics Award in 2004. He published prolifically
in refereed journals, and conference papers, and over 20 books. This was a
clear indication of his devotion to knowledge generation and education of
Professor Kong had always a strong sense of duty devoting his whole career
for electromagnetics. “Early to rise, and late to bed” had been his work ethic
all throughout his life. He was one of the most hardworking professors I had
seen in my life, and his indomitable spirit in work had always been an inspiration
to many who have studied with him. His tough-mindedness to seek the truth
in problem solving is admirable. He often questioned the established knowledge,
and sought ways to improve on the status quo. All research results went thorough
interrogation under his supervision. He urged all his students to constantly
ask how much of new knowledge had actually been generated in their research
Professor Kong was also an excellent instructor. He made the explanation
of difficult material seem simple, and taught both graduate and undergraduate
electromagnetic courses at MIT. It was a well-known fact that students often
opt to take the undergraduate EM course taught at MIT by Kong, because of
his flair for clarity when explaining difficult concepts to undergraduates.
His teaching method was methodical, well organized, and easy to follow. “Snappily
dressed, he strutted like a peacock on the stage…” wrote a student in his
His graduate teaching was equally superb at MIT. He taught a graduate course
that covered all the fundamentals of electromagnetics in one semester. After
his course, one could easily read papers on advanced topics in electromagnetics
and related fields including optics. For his graduate teaching, he won the
excellence in teaching award from the graduate student council at MIT in 1985.
One of the most important contributions of Professor Kong was his work on
popularizing electromagnetics, and providing a forum for electromagnetic research.
He organized the annual Progress in Electromagnetic Research Symposium (PIERS).
This symposium brought scientists and engineers from all over the world to
discuss topics related to EM research. A distinguishing feature of this symposium
is its international flavor, and the participation by mathematicians and physicists.
This symposium has served as an excellent forum for exchange of ideas for
mathematicians, physicists, and engineers working on EM research.
Professor Kong was also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Electromagnetic
Waves and Applications and a series of books on Progress in EM Research. The
work, needless to say, consumed a vast amount of his energy, and he had taken
on the job with great enthusiasm since 1987. I view the work as an immense
service to the electromagnetics community, providing authors with a journal
and a book series to publish and discuss their work, given the ever growing
shortage of journals for budding scientists to publish their work in. As if
the above activity is not enough, Professor Kong also served as the Editor
for the Wiley Series in Remote Sensing.
In addition to the above activities, Professor Kong regularly lectured around
the world and the US. He was the IEEE Distinguished Lecturer. He frequently
consulted with major US industries and companies. These activities clearly
showed the willingness of Professor Kong in helping others, and to share and
disseminate his knowledge. In addition, he had diligently served other universities
in providing advice and evaluations.
Professor Kong’s career has had profound impact in the area of electromagnetics
both in research, education, and service. The impact of his work is felt all
throughout the world. His dedication to research, teaching, and service is
to be emulated by all. As I said before, he will be badly missed!
Back to Kong's Memory Page.