Engineering’s Father of Photonic Crystals Eli Yablonovitch Honored as UCLA’s 99th Faculty Research Lecturer
By Matthew Chin
“We’re all here as observers of what’s around us and trying to anticipate what’s ahead,” said UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science professor Eli Yablonovitch as he opened the 99th Faculty Research Lecture on “The End of the Semiconductor Roadmap: The Collision of Physics, Economics, and Sociology,” on October 25 in the Schoenberg Auditorium. “This lecture is about trying to anticipate the future of the electronics industry.”
The fall Faculty Lecture, which honors the university’s most distinguished scholars in science, the arts, humanities, and social disciplines, was attended by a wide cross-section of faculty and colleagues.
Yablonovitch addressed the history of the transistor and shared his prediction that “the next ten years will see more change in transistor physics than has occurred over the past 40 years.”
Among the changes Yablonovitch sees are the functions of a laptop shrinking into a cell phone, the wireless revolution – or wireless everywhere, and the emergence of radio frequency identification tags on everything over the cost of $1. In addition, the professor foresees the computer hard disk being replaced by semiconductor flash memory, and the rise of efficient speech recognition which ultimately will make the computer keyboard obsolete.
That’s not to say the future is without challenges. As one of the few industries to enjoy a 50-year period of prosperity, it’s unclear whether it can continue such sustained growth into the future.
Known among his peers as the “father of photonic crystals,” Yablonovitch is credited with having established that entirely new field of optics, making lasting contributions with major implications for the development of opto-electronic chips, and quantum optics. He made the first photonic crystal with a 3D forbidden band gap, often called Yablonovite, the electromagnetic analog of an electronic semiconductor.
Photonic crystals — artificial structures that manipulate beams of light in the same way that silicon and other semiconductors control electric currents — function as “semiconductors of light.” It has recently been discovered that peacocks and parrots derive their brilliant colors from naturally occurring photonic crystals.
Yablonovitch’s impact in the research community goes well beyond the introduction of photonic crystals, including seminal work introducing statistical light trapping for high-efficiency solar cells and the discovery that a common form of Silicon is coated with hydrogen that is stable in air. He invented an improvement to semiconductor lasers that is universally employed in all telecommunications lasers, red laser pointers, and DVD players.
Graduating with a Ph.D. in applied physics from Harvard University in 1972, Yablonovitch has worked in both academia and industry. He spent two years at Bell Telephone Laboratories, taught applied physics at Harvard for five years, then joined Exxon to undertake research on photovoltaic solar energy. In 1984, he became a staff member at Bell Communications Research, where he began his work in photonic crystals. He joined UCLA’s electrical engineering faculty in 1992.
In addition to his other responsibilities at UCLA, Yablonovitch is director of the Center for Nanoscience Innovation for Defense, a $20 million, multi-campus project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, designed facilitate the rapid transition of research innovations in the nanosciences into applications for the defense sector. He is co-director of the National Science Foundation-sponsored Center for Scalable and Integrated Nano-Manufacturing, an $18 million venture that will focus on developing cost-effective nanomanufacturing technologies by working closely with industry. He also is an active member of the California NanoSystems Institute.
Yablonovitch has been elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Science for his extensive contributions in nonlinear optics, photonic crystals, and photonic bandgap materials.
For more information on the Faculty Research Lecture program, please visit: http://www.senate.ucla.edu/Awards/FRLProgramDescription.htm.