Graduation Year: 
michael thorburn photo

B.S. Math, 1983
M.S. Math, 1990
Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, 1992
Senior Director, Communications Systems Engineering DIRECTV
Los Angeles, California

It really is rocket science,” joked Michael Thorburn about the highly complex and technical nature of his work.

Thorburn’s first engineering job was with Rockwell International, where he analyzed antenna and microwave systems for the GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite project. In 1987, he returned to Oregon State for three years to further his engineering studies with Vijai Tripathi. He completed writing his Ph.D. thesis after joining the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he developed microwave communications technology for the Deep Space Network in support of the key interplanetary missions of the era, including the Galileo and Cassini missions to Jupiter and Saturn.

“You had to have a lot of patience working on planetary missions at NASA,” said Thorburn. Admittedly somewhat impatient, he left JPL to spend the next 15 years building telecommunications satellites, first at the Aerospace Corporation and eventually at Space Systems Loral, where he developed technology for dozens of satellites for government and commercial communications projects.

All the while, Thorburn spent some of his free time volunteering with the IEEE and teaching at local universities. In 2010, he was named Adjunct Engineering Lecturer of the Year at Santa Clara University.

In 2011, he was invited to lead the engineering team building the world’s largest radio telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), high in the Andes in Chile. He and his wife lived in Santiago until the project was completed.

Today, Thorburn is responsible for the development of radio-frequency technology for DIRECTV