Remembering professor Safavi-Naeini


On Oct. 10, University of Waterloo professor Safieddin (Ali) Safavi-Naeini passed away after a battle with prostate cancer. Safavi-Naeini had been a faculty member in the department of electrical and computer engineering for 25 years. He was also the director of UW’s Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems (CIARS), where he worked on state-of-the-art electromagnetic communications research.

“Over these years, I witnessed him build CIARS from the ground up. He was a role model in navigating challenges with a very compassionate and caring attitude,” said George Shaker, an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering.

Shaker worked alongside Safavi-Naeini and they co-authored several papers together. Safavi-Naeini was well-known in his field as the author of hundreds of papers with nearly 6,000 citations. His research group, CIARS, was focused on developing and characterizing sensing systems. The group received support from large companies including BlackBerry, Lockheed Martin and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. His lab was also home to several graduate and post-graduate students.

“Since the news of his passing, I have heard from many of Ali’s current and former students who spoke of the CIARS research group as a family,” said Mary Wells, UW’s dean of engineering, in a statement. “They specifically noted that Ali connected with his students beyond the role of research supervisor. Through his compassionate and caring spirit, he strived to be a research mentor and a friend.”

The news of Safavi-Naeini’s passing comes as a particularly devastating blow after the recent losses in the engineering faculty. In the past year alone, the department has lost Igor Ivkovic, a systems design engineering professor, as well as Pearl Sullivan, the former dean of engineering. The loss of Safavi-Naeini mounts on an already grieving group of students and faculty.

“We mourn the loss of one of the greatest mentors, researchers and one of the best professors in electrical and computer engineering,” said Madjid Soltani, an adjunct assistant professor in the same department.

Further information about how students can honour Safavi-Naeini’s life and contributions will be announced as they become available.

“Despite his recent illness, he never slowed down till his very last minutes. He always said his research along with his students and collaborators kept him going,” Shaker said. “It was very humbling to see him never miss a meeting, even if he took it from his hospital room. He simply maintained amazing dedication to his research and students.”