Two from ECE honored in college hall

ECE News

Jonathan Damery, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • Donald Scifres (MSEE '70, PhD '72) and the late ECE Professor William Fry have been inducted into the Engineering at Illinois Hall of Fame.
  • Scifres is recognized worldwide as a leading innovator in semiconductor laser research and development.
  • Fry was a pioneer of therapeutic ultrasound and of computer-based ultrasound visualization.

When Donald Scifres walked into the former Electrical Engineering Building, north of Boneyard Creek, in the fall of 1968, as a first-year graduate student, less than a month had elapsed from the death of William Fry, a professor and pioneer in the field of therapeutic ultrasound, whose research lab had been in that building. Now both men, with collective research and industry leadership stretching over seven decades, have been recognized as two of the six inductees into the Engineering at Illinois Hall of Fame


Donald Scifres (MSEE '70, PhD '72)
Donald Scifres (MSEE '70, PhD '72)
Scifres is acknowledged, worldwide, as a leading innovator in semiconductor laser research and development. As a student at the University of Illinois, he worked with Professor Nick Holonyak, Jr. Then in 1972, after completing his PhD, he began working for the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where, as the co-founder of a new research laboratory, he developed distributed feedback lasers, ultra high-power lasers, and laser arrays. Patents and articles began to accumulate and now number over 140 patents and 300 articles.  


In 1983, Scifres co-founded Spectra Diode Laboratories (SDL), one of the fastest growing companies in the fiber optics and optoelectronics industries in the United States. A need for high-power, exceedingly reliable lasers had developed within the telecommunication industry, especially for underwater and space applications. SDL met that need, and they came to manufacture the world’s highest power semiconductor laser. In 2001, SDL employed over 2,000 personnel at eight locations worldwide, and that year, Scifres oversaw its merger with JDS Uniphase Corporation. At the time, it was the largest technology merger in history. Scifres served as co-chairman and chief strategy officer at Uniphase until his retirement in 2003. 


He has since founded two investment companies, SDL Ventures and SDL Capital, both of which he oversees as chairman. He is an active investor in both public and private companies and serves on the board of directors of several private companies. He has held key leadership positions for the top technical organizations in his field: He was past director of The Optical Society, past president of the IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society, and past president and director of the Lasers and Electro-Optics Manufacturers Association. His accomplishments have been awarded widely.  


William Fry
William Fry
William Fry joined the University of Illinois in 1946 and established the Bioacoustics Research Laboratory, which was located, due to space constraints at the time, in a tunnel under the old Electrical Engineering Building. (Everitt Lab wasn’t completed for another three years.)  With custom built, high-intensity ultrasound equipment, Fry began studying the effects of sound waves on different types of animal tissue. His primary objective was to develop ultrasound as an alternative, noninvasive method of neurosurgery, and his groundbreaking research, which he conducted with his brother, Frank, initiated the field of therapeutic ultrasound.


In 1958, Russell Myers, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Iowa, completed a successful 12-hour ultrasound operation on a patient who had Parkinson’s disease, using equipment and techniques pioneered by Fry. Over the next four years, the Bioacoustics Research Laboratory regularly sent people to Iowa to oversee and conduct the procedures on nearly 90 patients. The use of ultrasound for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease is still an ongoing field of research. 


Fry is also credited as the first to introduce computers into ultrasound diagnostics and visualization. In 1967, his setup included a Raytheon mainframe computer, which controlled the ultrasound scanning and recorded and displayed data. As the president of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, he directed the organizational focus toward diagnostic ultrasound, which would require computer-based visualization systems to show high-accuracy images of tissues. These techniques are now regular practice for medical ultrasound.  


Though Scifres and Fry are from two separate generations, from two separate subsets of electric engineering, they represent the diverse and long history of success and leadership that is affiliated with ECE ILLINOIS. And even as those two missed meeting one another, their paths are now united in the Engineering at Illinois Hall of Fame. 


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