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Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Roberts Loved Teaching and Research

Published on September 8th, 2009 by Michelle Ward

EECS Professor James Roberts died Saturday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, after a bout with cancer.

“To the very end, he loved teaching and research,” says EECS Chair Glenn Prescott. “Several of us wanted him to retire last year when he was first diagnosed, but he wanted to press on as he genuinely enjoyed what he was doing. His studentsProfessor Jim Roberts and his scholarship were much, much more to him than just a profession.”

In 1990, Roberts returned to KU to become professor and chairman of the electrical engineering department. In 1998, he served as associate vice chancellor for research and public service and later as associate vice provost. He was the vice provost for research from 2003-2007. He served as the president and chief operating officer of the KU Center for Research Inc. and on Sen. Pat Roberts’ Advisory Committee on Science, Technology and the Future.

In 2007, Roberts returned to teaching and research as a full-time professor. At the EECS graduate student orientation last week, Roberts talked excitedly about a new research project. He was leading the development of an electric bus suitable for hilly areas with a varied climate. Sound like any place you might know?

“While he was good at everything he did, I felt that what he enjoyed most was teaching and research,” says AT&T Distinguished Professor of EEC K. Sam Shanmugan, who was instrumental in recruiting Roberts to return to KU as chairman. “We will all miss him and his optimism.”

When EECS Professor Gary Minden was leading the development of an interstate fiber optic network, he and EEC faculty were discussing the best way to send large numbers of bits. Minden asked whimsically what the weight of a bit was. A few days later, Roberts sent Minden a detailed answer that incorporated the theories of Albert Einstein and Claude Shannon among others. Fifteen years later, Minden still has the paper.

“I'll miss his enthusiasm for KU, his smiling face, his love for Kansas and Kansas history, his precision in engineering, his friendliness…,” says Minden.

Memorial services for Roberts will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St. The family suggests memorials to the James and Carol Roberts Fund, a scholarship fund for electrical engineering students at KU, through the KU Endowment Association.