As a rising senior who has finished his QM sequence but not yet done an E&M/optics sequence, but is about to start a research project that will be a large part antenna design and optimization, what are some good references you would recommend I use to learn enough about Antenna physics to get a good enough intuition to start doing design work? Extra points if this reference deals has a good treatment of ultra high frequencies.

  • $\begingroup$ Staelin's Electromagnetic Waves, I've used this before, as did a physics course at Cornell, and it was rigorous. A book I haven't read, but downloaded because it looked like I need to read it, is Electromagnetic Waves and Antennas by Orfanidis... this might be more for what you what. $\endgroup$ – Chris Gerig Aug 28 '15 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ This is old, but probably still well worth a look if you can get it from your library amazon.com/Antenna-Theory-Inter-University-Electronics-Series/… $\endgroup$ – Selene Routley Aug 28 '15 at 3:05

I'm an antenna design engineer, so I'll try to give you some pointers. I'll speak on a widerange of topics and hopefully give you (and others) info on where to start. Feel free to PM me with questions if you have any.

Classical Textbook References

The two most common references for antennas are the Balanis text and Stutzman / Thiele text. These are the standard undergraduate and first year graduate texts covering all of the topics needed to fully understand antennas (radiation, various apertures, wires, basic arrays, computational methods). Also, Balanis has a good advanced EM book.

  1. Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design, 3rd Edition, Constantine Balanis

  2. Antenna Theory and Design, 2nd Edition, Warren Stutzman & Gary Thiele

  3. Advanced Engineering Electromagnetics, 2nd edition, Constantine Balanis

I assume you'll be working in the 100 MHz regime and above. HF isn't something usually found in schools since it's too expensive to do (they're usually HUGE). You can do HAM stuff; the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has a good practical guide for building antennas

  1. ARRL Antenna Handbook.

It's a good reference to teach you things like building baluns, feeding wires, etc. They also have a handbook for practical electrical engineering topics. All of their stuff is readable, in my opinion, and I've learned many things from them. Just don't expect to find things like UHF patch antenna design with mathematical details.

Online References

Check out the stuff available online. The site Antenna-Theory contains a good practical introduction to all the topics you'd need to know to design. It's written by a PhD from Arizona State who studied under Constantine Balanis. LOTS of good stuff there on all the various types of antennas with some mathematics.

The guy above mentioned Ofanidis's text Electromagnetic Waves and Antennas. Orfanidis is pretty rigorous throughout his theoretical treatment, even including discussions of things like surface waves and plasmons (which requires some exposure to complex analysis). For a free book, it's awesome, but definitely not what I'd recommend as a starting point. He gets rather intense in his equations. However, I do go to him since I find him more rigorous than most sources (likely due to his background as a theoretical physicist who does signal processing).

Fundamental Papers to Read

If you plan on getting into rigorous treatment, there are a handful of papers out there that are absolutely fundamental. I can probably list a thousand of them, but I'll give you a few that will guide you towards theory.

  1. On Diffraction and Radiation of Electromagnetic waves, Schelkunoff. http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.56.308
  2. Diffraction Theory of Electromagnetic Waves, Stratton & Chu. http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.56.99
  3. Physical Limitations of Omni‐Directional Antennas, Chu. http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1715038
  4. A Re-Examination of the Fundamental Limits on the Radiation Q of Electrically Small Antennas, McLean. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/8.496253
  5. Theory and Experiment of Microstrip Patch Antennas, Y. T. Lo. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/TAP.1979.1142057
  6. An Improved Theory for Microstrip Antennas and Applications, Richards & Lo. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/TAP.1981.1142524
  7. Theory of Slots in Rectangular Waveguides, Stevenson. http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1697868
  8. Slot aerials and their relation to complementary wire aerials (Babinet's principle), Booker, http://dx.doi.org/10.1049/ji-3a-1.1946.0150
  9. Matrix methods for field problems, Harrington. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/PROC.1967.5433

Computational Methods for Electromagnetics

To be a designer today, you have to know how to use computer aided design (CAD) tools. You should familiarize yourself with the modern computational packages, ANSYS High Frequency Structure Simulator, CST Microwave Studio (MWS), and Altair FEKO. MWS and FEKO have free limited use student editions to get you started with design and simulation. Run through the examples to build a patch, wire, and array.

You don't have to fully read up and understand the mathematics of Method of Moments, Finite Difference Time/Freq Domain, and Finite Element Time/Freq Domain. While knowing that will help you design, I know many antenna engineers who've only had a rough treatment but still use HFSS, CST, and FEKO all the time. These are more CAD than anything else. If you're going into industry, knowing these tools gives you an upper hand when looking for a job. However, most if not all antenna engineers have graduate degrees (at least MS but PhD recommended) because the mathematics and physics is far beyond what undergrads do.

Comments on Optimization Techniques

On the topic of genetic algorithms (or optimization in general), just be wary of relying heavily on them in your design practices. The prevalence of computational tools has lead to a huge interest in optimization techniques; however, if you truly understand the physics, the optimization problem can be solved faster by manual tuning. All too often, I open my monthly Transactions on Antennas and Propagation to find something like "novel radiator designed using ". Don't get me wrong; they're useful. I use them all the time, but you shouldn't rely on them over your intuition. Usually, I turn to them to find optimal lengths and locations for things like feed probes as well as impedance matching circuitry.


I've only really done antennas in undergrad, and the most we really looked at was phased arrays of half wavelength antennas and looking at the resulting field distribution far from the source, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

One interesting thing to look at might be genetic optimization processes for antenna design. I believe that there has been some work in this exact field (creating super efficient antennas that are essentually impossible to design by hand and work very non intuitively), but for a really good example of this process at work in a more general sense, take a look at the wind turbine blades generated in this video and how they out perform standard blades in the context of the simulation:

Evolving Wind Turbine Blades

Anyway, it could make for an interesting project if you have a bunch of time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, genetic algoritms. Later on in my pipeline genetic algorithms are going to come into play for optimizing the design but I need to have the intuition to set a reasonably good approximation unless I want the algorithm to take forever to explore a massive breadth of configurations $\endgroup$ – Skyler Aug 28 '15 at 8:59

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