Remembering Kiyo Tomiyasu

The IEEE Life Fellow was a microwave pioneer and a philanthropist

7 January 2016

IEEE was greatly saddened by the news of the passing of Kiyo Tomiyasu on 9 December. He was 96.

Kiyo received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Caltech in 1940 and a master’s degree in communications engineering from Columbia in 1941. He earned a Ph.D. in engineering science and applied physics from Harvard in 1948.

The following year Kiyo joined Sperry Gyroscope Co., a division of Sperry Corp., an electronics company, in Palo Alto, Calif. He left in 1955 to work for General Electric first at the company’s Palo Alto office and later at its offices in Philadelphia and Schenectady, N.Y. After corporate mergers, he was employed by Lockheed Martin and retired from there in 2005.

During his long and active career, Kiyo contributed to the development of ferrites, microwave components, spectroscopy instruments, lasers, and radiometers. He also did pioneering work in microwave remote sensing of the Earth using satellite-borne radiometers, scatterometers, and synthetic aperture radars. Kiyo’s 1956 U.S. patent entitled “Serrated choke system for electromagnetic waveguide” led to the invention of the microwave oven door seal some three decades later. It is still used today to protect people from radiation. 

In the early 1970s he played a leading role in developing NASA’s Skylab S-193, which incorporated a radiometer, a scatterometer, and a radar altimeter. The radar altimeter was used to study ocean surfaces, wave conditions, sea and lake ice, snow cover, flooding, rainfall, vegetation, and soil. In the early 1980s he also worked on NASA’s Advanced Applications Flight Experiment Radiometer Scatterometer sensor, a research tool for gathering data on wind speed at the ocean’s surface.


Kiyo was also an active IEEE volunteer. He was director of Division IV from 1985 to 1986. He also served on several IEEE boards, including the Board of Directors, the Awards Board, the Technical Activities Board, Publication Services and Products Board, and the Educational Activities Board.

In 1955 Kiyo joined the Administrative Committee of the IEEE Professional Group on Microwave Theory and Techniques (now the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society). He was editor of IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques from 1958 to 1959 and served as president of the society from 1960 to 1961. In 1980 Kiyo joined the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society and later served as the society’s first Awards chair. He was named an honorary life member of the administrative committees of both societies and continued to volunteer until shortly before his passing.

Kiyo also helped to establish two IEEE Foundation funds that support students: the Harold Sobol Memorial Fund, administered by the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society and the Mikio Takagi Student Prize Fund, administered by the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society. To recognize early-to-mid-career contributions to technologies that show the promise of innovative applications, he initiated the establishment of the IEEE technical field award named in his honor: the IEEE Kiyo Tomiyasu Award, which comes with a US $10,000 honorarium.

He was inducted by the IEEE Foundation into its IEEE Heritage Circle at the Thomas Alva Edison level of giving, which means he donated between US $100,000 and $249,999. The Eiko and Kiyo Tomiyasu Endowed Professorship at Caltech was established to honor Kiyo and his wife.  

Kiyo was elevated to IEEE Fellow in 1962 for contributions to microwave theory. He received the IEEE Centennial Medal in 1984 and the Third Millennium Medal in 2000. In 1977 he was a recipient of GE’s Charles Proteus Steinmetz Award for outstanding individual achievement over a sustained period as evidenced by impact on the company and society.

Kiyo was a wonderful mentor to several generations of MTTS and GRSS administrative committee members. His gentle manner of teaching and his quiet leadership will always be remembered by those lucky enough to have been his IEEE “students.”

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