NYU WIRELESS Alum Shu Sun receives a double dose of recognition from the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society

Alum Shu Sun with her PhD advisor Theodore Rappaport

When Shu Sun was studying for her master’s and doctoral degrees in Electrical Engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and conducting her research at NYU WIRELESS, she won a slew of awards, including an IEEE Donald G. Fink Award, an IEEE Vehicular Technology Society Best Paper Award, and the prestigious Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award. Those honored her work on proving that the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum holds the promise of providing reliable broadband access to people around the world and her role as the lead student author of the seminal 2013 paper “Millimeter Wave Mobile Communications for 5G Cellular: It Will Work!” based on an analysis of NYU’s massive data sets. Her other noted accomplishments during those years included leading the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) global standards body to adopt her close-in free space path loss model as an optional model and developing the world’s first open-source channel modeling software, NYUSIM, which accurately recreates difficult-to-take field measurements on a computer and is relied upon by engineers worldwide to understand radio propagation for 5G mmWave frequencies.

Theodore Rappaport, NYU WIRELESS’s Founding Director and Tandon’s David Lee / Ernst Weber Professor, reflected on her journey:  “Shu Sun was the first graduate student I recruited in 2012 to join NYU WIRELESS in its very early days, and she became an integral part of the student team that did the pioneering work in millimeter wave wireless communications. At NYU, she honed the skills to change minds and lead the world to completely new approaches that were once thought impossible or untenable. Shu is the most prolific Ph.D. student I have ever advised at this stage of her career and was truly on the ground floor of the wireless world’s move to millimeter-wave frequencies and adaptive/directional beamforming antennas. Her efforts proved to the world that millimeter waves would work.”

Now, as the world advances towards 6G, Sun, who graduated from Tandon in 2018 with her Ph.D., is a faculty member at the highly regarded Shanghai Jiao Tong University. As a professor, she continues to collect laurels. Among her latest are the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society 2023 Neil Shepherd Memorial Best Propagation Paper Award for “Propagation Models and Performance Evaluation for 5G Millimeter-Wave Bands” and the 2023 IEEE Vehicular Technology Society (VTS) Early Career Award, for “fundamental contributions to the development of 5G millimeter-wave communications” according to her prize citation.

Rappaport, who nominated her for the IEEE VTS Early Career award, noted: “Shu Sun’s intellect and tenacity to understand and contribute to the literature, attend conferences, work with industry leaders, and continually urge consideration for what she knew and that others had not yet come to accept, helped bring about 5G millimeter wave wireless communications. As a student, she was a great researcher and also had a servant’s heart, extremely empathetic and always having a genuine interest in the well-being of the entire team around her. I know she will be a terrific professor, and I am deeply grateful to have been able to mentor her during her graduate school days.”


We recently caught up with Sun to ask her more about her time at Tandon and her work.


Q: You have won several honors from the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society. Can you explain why your work is so important in the realm of vehicular technology?

A: Millimeter-wave technology provides vast available bandwidths for vehicles and passengers to communicate with each other and with every other object or person promptly, and it also provides higher localization accuracy for moving vehicles. 


Q: How did you originally become interested in wireless?

A: I have had a passion for physics since childhood, thanks to being surrounded by so many wonderful physical phenomena in nature and in everyday life. Later on, when I learned about electromagnetic (EM) waves in physics courses, I was amazed at the various propagation mechanisms (e.g., reflection, refraction, penetration) of EM waves, how they change with carrier frequency, and how they can be used to facilitate people’s life.  


Q: Professor Rappaport has mentioned that you conducted your groundbreaking research while concurrently working very hard on your English-language skills. Do you have any tips for other international graduate students?

A: Indeed, it is not easy to take graduate courses, carry out research, and improve your English at the same time. For other international graduate students, I would suggest using English wherever and whenever possible. For those who are also involved in academic research, it would be good to read high-quality published papers carefully and frequently, to learn not only the research ideas but also the language itself. Furthermore, after obtaining a certain amount of input via reading papers, it is necessary to practice output. Professor Rappaport used to say “Writing is like exercising a muscle,” so practice frequently and get feedback from your advisor and colleagues. 


Q: Can you name a favorite memory of Tandon?

A: There are many but I feel particularly fond of its beautiful (albeit small) campus, which features a row of cherry blossom trees that provides rich and varied scenes across the four seasons. This stands out since our team used to conduct millimeter-wave field measurements on the campus many times and in different seasons. Also, the views from the 9th and 10th floors of 2 MetroTech Center (where our lab was originally located) were fantastic; I remember seeing the Brooklyn Bridge clearly while taking calls in the office and seminars in the large conference room. Moreover, the grand piano on the first floor of 5 MetroTech Center is a “must-mention.” I used to play it in my spare time, which helped me relax and provided me with so much fun. 


Q: What do you think are among the most exciting applications for next-generation wireless? What developments do you predict for the future?

A: I think Extended Reality (XR) is among the most exciting application for next-generation wireless. That includes augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), and it can allow for an interactive experience. One of the key technologies that enables XR is  millimeter-wave/terahertz (THz), which has abundant bandwidths to provide extremely high data rates and low latency. In the future, holographic communication combined with XR is likely to be a relevant development direction that will enable the communications of visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory and gustatory senses in both the real and simulated universe. 


Q: Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?

A: I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my Ph.D. advisor and other professors who taught me or provided suggestions at NYU WIRELESS and Tandon, the friends and colleagues who worked with me, and the staff who kindly helped me in many ways. The Ph.D. experience may be hard when you’re immersed in it, but, looking back, it was one of the most rewarding and memorable journeys of my life.