Prem Kumar Receives Secretary of Defense Medal

Award recognizes Kumar’s outstanding public service

Former DARPA director Arati Prabhakar pins the Secretary of Defense Medal to Professor Prem Kumar's jacket.

Northwestern Engineering’s Prem Kumar has received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service from Ash Carter, former US Secretary of Defense.

From 2013 to 2017, Kumar served as a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where he oversaw and created programs to develop revolutionary optical technologies. The medal recognized his public service in this position as well as his pioneering contributions to the quantum and optical sciences.

The Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service is one of the highest distinctions presented by the Secretary of Defense to non-career employees, private citizens, and foreign nationals for their contributions, assistance, or support. Former recipients include Hillary Clinton and retired US Army general James B. Thayer.

“Receiving the medal was an affirmation of my personal sense of accomplishment during my time at DARPA and away from home and my lab at Northwestern,” said Kumar, AT&T Professor of Information Technology and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.

While at DARPA, Kumar established a foundation to transform quantum science theories into tools and capabilities for national security with potential to effect next-generation GPS, communications, photonic imaging at the nanoscale, and sensing chemical and biological warfare agents. He also provided advice and guidance on quantum science and related technologies to the White House.

A member of Northwestern’s faculty since 1986, Kumar studies quantum fiber optics, optical communications and imaging, and nonlinear and quantum optical devices. He directs Northwestern’s Center for Photonic Communication and Computing, where researchers conduct leading-edge fundamental science and engineering for the development of advanced optical communication and computing systems.

Kumar is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Optical Society OSA, American Physical Society, Society for Optics and Photonics SPIE, and Institute of Physics (UK).