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Michael Sherburne ‘18

Michael Sherburne ‘18
Michael Sherburne ‘18. Photo courtesy of Michael Sherburne.

Michael Sherburne

Virginia Tech Corps of Cadet Class of ‘17
Virginia Tech Class of ‘18
Radio Frequency and Microwave Design Engineer
at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

In my current role at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU-APL), I am responsible for designing and conducting experiments, modeling, simulation, and finding solutions to radio frequency challenges that are to our nation’s interest. 

After graduating with my Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, I was commissioned in the United States Air Force as a second lieutenant. My first assignment was to earn my Master of Science in electrical engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology. This track’s emphasis was in semiconductors and micro-electro-mechanical systems. I also pursued electives in nuclear engineering and did my thesis on X-ray detection using nanotechnology. 

My career took an exciting turn when a small side experiment about the strain-sensing properties of colloidal quantum dots received high-level attention from senior leadership in the Air Force. This technology could be an excellent new tool for monitoring the structure of both buildings and vehicles and catching issues before they become a major problem. 

I finished my career in the Air Force in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I pursued my Ph.D. in applied electromagnetics and focused on how to evaluate electro-optic sensors for radio frequency monitoring and how to make them smaller using nanotechnology. My work at the University of New Mexico led to a great experience at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories. 

In 2023, I received an honorable discharge from the Air Force as captain and have been working at JHU-APL ever since. My main hobbies include mentoring aspiring engineers, hiking with my wife and son, playing casual e-sports games, playing the violin, taking photos, and tinkering with electronics.

How did the college equip you for the “real world”? 
I found both the undergraduate research and interdisciplinary capstone greatly helpful in my career. A major part of the undergraduate degree is learning how to learn. Every new challenge requires reading and evaluating peer-reviewed literature, learning new concepts to find solutions, and working with a diverse team of engineers to accomplish the task.

What is a guiding principle for your work? 
For me, it’s simply the core values of the Air Force: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. Basically, put in the hard work and think about all the angles when tackling a problem. Most importantly, inspire others to be their best.

What advice would you share with your college self? 
Keep in contact with the friends you make throughout your time at Virginia Tech. It’s a small world and you can bump into a lot of people throughout your career.

What makes Virginia Tech a special place?
Time, in a way, slowed down while in Blacksburg. The vast beauty of the campus allows you to unwind your thoughts and think through problems. I know it may sound cliché, but seriously, enjoy every moment during your time at Virginia Tech.

Why is giving back (time, talent, or treasure) to Virginia Tech important to you? 
If we do not mentor our next generation of engineers, we cannot continue solving our nation’s most critical challenges.

My fondest memory from my time in the college is... 
The energetic atmosphere of Space@VT when it was located at the Corporate Research Center. The open cubicle environment allowed undergraduate and graduate students alike to easily exchange their ideas on massive whiteboards in a beautiful environment (with an even more amazing local coffee shop located in the same building – Tillerman Coffee Co.). This really left a positive impression on me and led to numerous opportunities for my career, as well as an amazing capstone project with teammates who are still close friends to this day.

What was a project that you worked on while at Virginia Tech? 
By far the most exciting project was our senior capstone in which we built a dense plasma focus (DPF), also known as a nuclear fusion device. We were building a DPF to work as a nuclear diagnostic tool for Virginia Tech. Everything worked really well, except that the pulsed power system was strong enough to shut down our diagnostics. We may or may not have tripped the breaker in the basement of Randolph Hall. Fortunately, the project continues at Virginia Tech to this day.

Being a Virginia Tech alumnus means... 
Being part of Hokie Nation, a wide network that helps each other out. It also means giving back to the next generation of engineers (being an engineering Hokie). Everywhere I went in my military career, there was always a Hokie to talk to. Even now, I constantly run into fellow alumni. It always makes my day when I think back to the shared experiences and hear how the university has changed throughout the years. Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is always a value we can live by.


B.S., Electrical Engineering, Virginia Tech, 2018
M.S., Electrical Engineering, U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology, 2020
Ph.D., Electrical Engineering, University of New Mexico, 2022

Take a listen

Michael Sherburne joined the Careers for Engineers podcast to discuss colloidal quantum dots, the interdisciplinary nature of electrical engineering, and being an inventor in the United States Air Force.