An Interview with Raymond Rumpf

To celebrate the publication of Dr Raymond C. Rumpf’s new book ‘Electromagnetic and Photonic Simulation for the Beginner: Finite-Difference Frequency-Domain in MATLAB®’, Artech House caught up with the pioneer himself. Rumpf is dedicated to developing revolutionary new technologies in the fields of electromagnetics, photonics and 3D printing, through his company, EMLab, founded in 2010 at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he is currently a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Rumpf has won an array of prestigious awards, the most recent being the 2020 Florida Tech Career Hall of Fame.


AH: What inspired you to write this book?


RR: I had two main motivations to write my book.  First, I wanted there to be a high-quality book to teach the art and techniques of computational electromagnetics (CEM) to the complete beginner.  I struggled to get started in CEM and I continue to observe countless others having the same struggles.  The few resources I found for beginners did not teach enough to be useful.  The more advanced resources were just not understandable to me.  I wanted to write the book I wish I had many years ago that covers everything from the basic concepts all the way to advanced simulations.  Second, I wanted there to be a book that teaches the finite-difference frequency-domain (FDFD) method.  I think this should be the most popular method in CEM, but it remains relatively obscure due to lack of learning materials.  It is the easiest method to learn and implement and is able to simulate so many different types of devices.  Of all the methods I know, FDFD has contributed the most to my career success.  This book covers waveguides, surface waves, transmission lines, photonic band diagrams, isofrequency contours, photonic crystals, diffraction gratings, guided-mode resonance filters, frequency selective surfaces, metamaterials, and even simulation of an invisibility cloak designed by transformation optics.  That is a very wide range of applications for such a simple method!


AH: How did you get into your field initially?


RR: I was working for Harris Corporation (now L3Harris) in the Microsystems Technology Group, led by a great friend and visionary, Charles Mike Newton.  We researched and developed technologies to radically miniaturize communications systems.  We often encountered problems miniaturizing electromagnetic devices.  Even though it was not my area or even my interest at the time, I began to learn about electromagnetics from working through these problems.  I did not have access to commercial software so I decided to write a finite-difference time-domain (FDTD) code so that I could explore my own crazy ideas.  I used that code to improve my understanding of electromagnetics and even to achieve a few breakthroughs while at Harris.  That was my first exposure to computational electromagnetics and it was like having superpowers.


AH: Can you provide a “behind-the-scenes” look at your writing process?


RR: I am not sure I have a formal writing process.  I started by making a detailed outline to organize the information and to be sure I did not forget anything.  I invested a lot of time and energy into the graphics and diagrams.  I am a very visual learner and teacher.  I easily spent 50% of my writing time on just the graphics so this was a huge part of what I did “behind-the-scenes.”  I will admit that I wrote things completely out of order, by whatever topic my ADHD motivated me to write about at the time.  When I had writer’s block, I worked on graphics or the computer codes that went along with the book.  My dog Ardie did a great job of reminding when to take breaks because he shoved my hands off my keyboard and would not let me work when it was time to go for a walk.  I wrote the book during the COVID lockdowns, so my writing process involved my wife and kids visiting me in my home-office between their classes.  That was my favorite part!


AH: You’ve written successful books (or a successful book): what advice do you have for engineers thinking about or just starting to write a technical book?


RR: I knew that writing a book would be a lot of work, but I still greatly underestimated it.  Plan a huge amount of work into your schedule.  I do not recommend writing a book just to write a book.  Wait until you have something unique and special to offer.  Start with an outline and work on that until it is quite detailed before writing or you will waste time having to move things around, rewriting sections, going back and adding new sections, etc.  I think if you do a good job at writing your book, you will be jealous of the readers.  Use this as a personal test of the value and effectiveness of your writing.  Use the book writing experience to learn new skills, such as generating better graphics or using a reference manager.  I love color, but I practiced creating grayscale graphics for my book.  I learned that color can be distracting because some of my grayscale figures were more clear and conveyed information more effectively than my equivalent color figures.  Have your book reviewed by multiple people and be sure to include reviewers that are not experts in your area.  I got my best early feedback from reviewers who knew the least about the subject.  Write your book so that it is still understandable to the non-experts.  I recommend approaching a publisher only after you are confident you can finish the manuscript of your book by a certain date.  I spoke with many different publishers and proudly ended up working with Artech House.  Consider Artech House as your publisher.  They were great through the entire process and happily answered all my questions.

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