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Howard Phillips

Howard Phillips
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering
Masters degree in Nuclear Engineering
Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Job title: 
Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Type(s) of Engineering:

Favourite thing: 

"Teaching and student interaction; and forecasting theory research."

Howard Phillips was one of those kids who loved to take things apart; he was fascinated with anything electronic, and had a passion for amateur radios. In high school he "liked math and science courses more than other subjects." So it's hardly surprising he became an engineer.

As an undergraduate, Howard studied electrical engineering at Oklahoma State University. He then earned a masters degree in nuclear engineering at the University of Oklahoma and worked in industry for a few years, before attending the University of New Mexico to complete a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science. In the twenty years between finishing his doctorate and becoming a professor at the University of North Carolina, Howard worked in the microelectronics industry. One of his most challenging and significant projects was designing microcircuits - very small electronic circuits - for use on spacecraft.

Howard has also been very involved in a project designed to bring sight back to the blind. He holds, in partnership with two medical doctors, patent number 5,109,844 called Retinal Microstimulation. It involves the design and development of a microchip, similar to the one found in your computer, which can be implanted in the eye, and used to restore vision to people who are losing their sight. While it might sound like science fiction, it's not.

In fact, what Howard and his colleagues propose for the blind, already exists for the deaf. Certain types of deafness can be alleviated through the use of an electronic device called a cochlear implant. This implant uses electrical signals to bypass damaged and non-working neurons involved in hearing and send sound signals directly to the brain. Howard's project would bypass damaged and non-working photoreceptors (elements in the eye which respond to light) and send light signals directly to the brain. While the microcircuit is still being tested, it could one day bring vision back to people who are living in darkness.

While Howard's research and teaching in a big university may seem really far away from life among the Choctaw Indians in Oklahoma, he never forgets where he comes from. In fact, he has developed a popular presentation called, How to Make an A in every Class and Have Fun Succeeding, which he gives to Native (and non-Native) students to encourage them to excel in school. In addition, he encourages them to pursue studies in science and engineering, because as he tells them, "this is the key to a successful future."

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