Order of Canada for Dr. Jamal Deen
July 19, 2018
When Dr. Jamal Deen joined McMaster University 19 years ago, he was unsure how long he would stay.
The tenured professor, on approved leave from Simon Fraser University, planned to spend at least three years in Hamilton. If he was unhappy in his new position, the door was open for his return to British Columbia.
Nearly two decades later, Deen is still at McMaster making a significant impact.
His prolific research has helped the university become a major centre for innovation and cutting-edge research in opto-electronics and he was the university’s first professor to be elected a Fellow of the Electromechanical Society and its first engineering professor to be elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
He is also the only McMaster professor to win the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) J.M Ham Educational Medal, the McNaughton Gold Medal and the Fessenden Silver Medal.
Deen was recently appointed to the Order of Canada for his advancements in the fields of electrical engineering and applied physics and his leadership of multiple academic and professional institutions.
He said the high-profile appointment was unexpected.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Deen, who is visiting some of his research collaborators in Asia before he resumes teaching in the fall, said. “It’s a humbling experience for me and I am most grateful to my family for the care, support and love over the years. Without their unwavering support, such recognition wouldn’t be possible. So this honour is more for them than me.”
Raised just outside Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, Deen singled out his parents for their unconditional love and care.
“They supported me despite our very modest resources and they always believed in me,” he said. “This circumstance meant that I learned quickly and at a very young age the importance of hard work, staying focussed on academic goals and striving to be the best you can.”
On learning of the appointment, mechanical engineering professor Dr. Ravi Selvaganapathy said the honour is justified.
“I am amazed by the energy and the time that he devotes on a regular basis to help colleagues and advance their careers through suggesting research ideas, offering mentorship and advice or in nominating them for prestigious awards or fellowships,” said the Canada research chair in biomicrofuilidics. “He has been an excellent mentor to me and many others at McMaster and beyond in distilling his life’s worth of experience and offering advice…He’s a kind, caring and good human being.”
Promoted to full professor after just six years and his first sabbatical at Simon Fraser University, Deen was recruited to McMaster to help build their micro-/nano-/opto-electronics and information technology program.
“I decided to stay on for family reasons and to work with my junior colleagues whom I helped to hire in these new areas,” the micro-and nano-systems laboratory director pointed out. “These younger colleagues whom we recruited have all done well professionally and our reputation in these areas ranks among the very best in Canada. The work environment at McMaster and the younger colleagues with whom I am fortunate to work with made the decision to stay easier.”
Dr. Ridha Khedri, McMaster’s computing and software department chair, benefitted from Deen’s mentorship.
“Not only is he able and willing to communicate what he knows, but he’s extremely generous with his time,” said Khedri. “…As my senior colleague, I have found Professor Deen to be a person of high ethical values and integrity.”
Deen said the 13 years spent at Simon Fraser were important in developing his academic career and reputation in Canada and globally.
“At both universities, I was lucky enough to work with outstanding students and colleagues who have significantly advanced our research ideas and helped to build our scholarly and professional reputation into top levels of world-class status,” the 2013 University of the West Indies Toronto benefit gala vice-chancellor award recipient noted.
Since 2001, Deen has been a senior Canada research chair in information technology at McMaster.
Some of his major accomplishments with students and collaborators include inventing and developing low-cost, easy-to-use and easy-to-manufacture compact sensors for drinking water quality monitoring along with one of the highest frame rate cameras operating at more than a billion frames per second.
The Fulbright scholar also spearheaded the development of accurate and computationally efficient models extensively used to design wireless systems used in popular consumer products, and research prototypes of low-cost, high-sensitivity and compact bio-imaging systems for screening and early detection of important diseases, including cancer.
Deen, who has an honourary doctorate from the University of Waterloo, attended Queen’s College which is one of the top high schools in Guyana.
“There I learnt many lessons, one important one being that competition, co-operation and collaboration can work in harmony together,” he said. “I found that by helping classmates with whom I competed in exams, I became a better student with a deeper understanding of the academic material. Queen’s provided me with the best chance to develop solid academic groundings, excellent study habits and superb time management skills.”
Graduating from the University of Guyana in 1978, Deen completed graduate studies at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
“I chose that university because one of my best teachers at Queen’s went there,” he said. “His teaching techniques and in-depth knowledge of chemistry were simply exceptional, even among numerous outstanding Queen’s teachers. His teaching methods of ‘problem-based learning’ and continual assessment with increasing levels of difficulty stood in contrast with other teachers who studied and trained elsewhere.”
Deen is a world-leading expert in the modelling, design and applications of modern advanced semi-conductor devices and circuits.
“Having studied mathematics and physics as an undergraduate student, I wanted to do something more practical,” he said. “This was another reason for choosing Case Western as it had a top-ranked electrical engineering and applied physics program. I could immediately enter the program even though I didn’t have an engineering degree. There, I was exposed to some of the best researchers and teachers in their fields. In retrospect, this was a good decision as I have thoroughly enjoyed using my basic science and math background to solve some important and long-standing problems in engineering and applied science.”
Deen and the rest of the Order of Canada appointees will be invited to Ottawa later this year to accept their insignia.
Dr. Tapas Mondal, an associate professor in paediatrics, said Deen remains easily approachable even after achieving the highest degree of national and international accolades.
“He believes in collegiality and comradery and always goes above and beyond to help every member of the team,” said Mondal. “That makes him a true leader.”