Julio A. Navarro, Ph.D.
Senior Technical Fellow
The Boeing Company
Ph.D., electrical engineering, Texas A&M University; M.S., electrical engineering, Texas A&M University; B.S., electrical engineering, Texas A&M University.
Not many engineers can trace the lineage of their mentors and advisors back to Renaissance and the dawn of modern science, but Dr. Julio A. Navarro managed to make that connection when he researched the history of his faculty advisor at Texas A&M University, Professor Kai Chang, for a retirement gift.
“I didn’t know what to get him, so I started researching his graduate school advisor,” he recalls. “Then I decided to research his advisor’s advisor, and for that I had to contact his widow to see if she could dig-up his thesis to see who he had listed as his advisor. Once I got that, I was off.”
After exhaustively searching the internet for each preceding generation of Ph.D.s – and who certified their theses – Dr. Navarro created a family tree-like poster for his mentor that read like a “who’s who” of scientific greats that led all the way back to Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo. In the process, he rooted his own pedigree on this continuum as well, and soon he set out on a career that’s lived up to the expectations his forbearers set, culminating in his current designation a Senior Technical Fellow at The Boeing Company. In 500 years, future scientists will be speaking of Dr. Navarro’s innovative work on radio frequency and microwave sensors, circuits, antennas, and heterogeneously-integrated electronics in the same reverential manner as they do about discoveries made by the other names on Dr. Chang’s poster.
Dr. Navarro’s story begins in Cordoba, Argentina, where he was born to Beatriz and Eligio Navarro. His parents emigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities when he was young, with he and his siblings joining them in New York City a few years later. The reunited family soon moved to Houston, Texas, where Dr. Navarro grew up and attended high school.
Scholarships from the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Salvation Army, loans, grants, and a lawn-mowing business that he started with his father all helped finance Dr. Navarro’s enrollment at Texas A&M University. After initially considering a career in Mechanical Engineering, he decided to focus his studies in Electrical Engineering, a field that was attractive to him because of the better employment opportunities it afforded at the time.
At the urging of his father, he joined the Texas A&M co-op program which led to his working with General Dynamics’ Fort Worth Division. At General Dynamics, Dr. Navarro was a member of several different work groups including Avionics Systems Design, Advanced Technology & Systems Engineering, Emitters & Intelligence, Antenna Systems, and Radar Cross-Section Research. He designed wideband, low-observable antennas as well as many other printed circuit components, and his performance was impressive enough that he was chosen to become part of the General Dynamics graduate co-op program.
It was while Dr. Navarro was pursuing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at Texas A&M as a Graduate Engineering Fellow that he worked under the direction of Dr. Chang and established his connection to the august scientific legacy that it entailed. Upon graduation, he was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to pursue his Ph.D. and subsequently earned the Ebensbarger Electrical Engineering
award and a NASA-Lewis Research Center [now NASA Glenn] Training Grant.
While finishing his doctoral studies, Dr. Navarro accepted an engineering position with a small company outside of Chicago, the Epsilon Lambda Corp., where he designed and developed microstrip patch antenna arrays and RF front-ends and led a group in developing cost-effective approaches for phased array beam scanning including low-loss feed networks for efficient planar millimeter-wave apertures. He chose to work at a small company despite offers from larger firms because he knew that he would be working in a growing field and that the limited size of the company would mean that he would gain exposure to all aspects of the business and learn to work quickly with limited resources.
Dr. Navarro describes his next career move, joining The Boeing Company, as something akin to moving from a miniature golf course to the U.S. Open. His initial project was working on an international effort to design, build, and launch the Teledesic program, a global phased-array satellite network. Since then, the phased-array module concepts he has introduced have increased the integration and functionality of Boeing’s products and also reduced costs for the company and its customers. His innovative phased-array designs have been integrated in terrestrial, naval, airborne, and space platforms and have earned him more than two dozen patents.
Dr. Navarro’s technical knowledge and background includes millimeter-wave oscillator/amplifier design, anechoic chamber measurements, low-observable radiators and radar cross-section research. He applies the latest finite-element and method-of-moment tools to resolve complex electromagnetic problems in a wide range of transmission media. He has shared his knowledge with the world through his authorship of more than 40 technical papers in peer-reviewed publications. He has also co-written the first technical reference textbook in his field, Integrated Active Antennas & Spatial Power Combining; has co- authored chapters in several reference books, handbooks, and encyclopedias; and has taught the Microwave Electronics Design course at the University of Washington.
For the average consumer, the practical effects of Dr. Navarro’s extensive research and development will soon be apparent. His vision and leadership have revolutionized Boeing phased-arrays, making them simpler to manufacture and more affordable, and have enabled their integration into the next generation of telecommunications technology. As mobile phone companies launch their next generation networks, and as satellite delivery of internet service gets rolled out in the years to come, the technology that Dr. Navarro has been so instrumental in developing will become part and parcel of our everyday lives. It’s this remarkable evolution of communications technology that his scientific forbearers could never even imagine.
“The next big thing in phased arrays is their application to 4G and 5G networks,” he says confidently. “The capacity and reliability of phased arrays promises an era of ubiquitous connectivity. You may not even realize it, but your smartphone and other devices will be pumping data from phased arras, and there will be connectivity anywhere, anytime. You won’t have to wait ten or twenty years, either. It will be more like five years.”
It’s breakthroughs like this that have led to his being named a Boeing Senior Technical Fellow (STF) in 2012, a designation that vaulted him into the rarified air of the top 0.1 percent of The Boeing Company’s tens of thousands of engineers.
“I was very surprised, in fact, no one was more surprised than me,” he recalls the day he learned he’d been designated an STF. “I got a call from Dr. John Tracy, the Chief Technology Officer at the time [and former HENAAC Engineer of the Year, now retired] and he told me I’d made it.”
Boeing STFs aren’t simply statues erected for everyone’s praise. With great distinction comes great responsibility, and much is expected and demanded from them, something Dr. Navarro takes very seriously. “Internally at Boeing, we have a responsibility to transfer the knowledge that I have to other Boeing engineers, and I’m very thankful that the many mentees I’ve nurtured have gone on to do great things.”
Dr. Navarro has received three Boeing Special Invention Awards for his work on 3-Dimensional Phased-Array Module Architecture, Antenna Integrated Printed Wiring Boards (AiPWB), and the Method & System for Angled RF Connection Using a Flexible Substrate. His other recognitions include the BEYA MiRS Scientist of the Year designation, the SHPE President’s Award, the HENAAC Outstanding Technical Achievement Award (Industry), the SHPE Hispanic Technical Achievement Award (Industry), and the HENAAC Most Promising Engineer Award.
For all of his accomplishments, Dr. Navarro has never ceased giving back to his community, devoting a significant portion of his time to educating, developing, and empowering the next generation of engineers, STEM graduates, and contributors. He mentors colleagues, newly hired STEM professionals, and interns, as well as college and high-school students. He inspires students and colleagues through frequent presentations and workshops at annual conferences and events for GMiS, SHPE, and the Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology (HESTEC) Week at the University of Texas- Pan American.
With his extensive technical knowledge, his innovative mind, and his commitment to preparing the next generation of engineering talent for the future, Dr. Navarro is a proud addition to the scientific lineage from which he has descended and will be a strong link in the unbroken chain of technological progress that started with Galileo nearly 500 years ago.
-By Vinnie Longobardo