Coleman named SPIE Fellow



James J Coleman
James J Coleman

ECE Professor James J Coleman has been named a Fellow of the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). He was one of 75 Fellows elected to the society this year.

Coleman, a researcher in the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab, was recognized for achievements in quantum well and strained-layer semiconductor lasers.

“The Fellow designation is in recognition of a career’s worth of activity,” Coleman said. “It’s a nice honor.”

During his research, Coleman investigated photonic devices with strained layers and found that the devices worked effectively. After making laser devices at Illinois, Coleman and his students began working with McDonnell Douglas and tested the lasers for long-term reliability. The strained layer lasers proved to last for remarkably long times due to sufficiently thin layers when original thought was that lasers would fail quickly due to the strain. It was a significant change in the field of optoelectronics that gave Coleman and his students a lot of attention.

“It was such a big change in the way the industry works,” Coleman said. “Now there are strained layers in all kinds of lasers. Until the 1990s, when our work in the area and work done by others emerged, they were strictly avoided in the industry.”

Coleman says the fields of computation and communication are merging. He believes more and more electronics are going to involve photonics. Light is becoming the alternative to simple electrical signals. Coleman says this gives more freedom, based on the color (wavelength) of the light.

Coleman teaches ECE 444: IC Device Theory and Fabrication, as well as a graduate-level semiconductor laser course (ECE 532) once a year.

“Our work is generally influenced by industrial problems and needs,” Coleman said. “We often get support from, or joint programs with, industrial sponsors. McDonnell Douglas was looking for better laser materials and we were able to provide that. Most of my PhD students go to work in industry.”

Coleman has been a member of SPIE for nearly 30 years. He uses that lengthy relationship as a way to add to his students’ education. Graduate students who work with Coleman have the opportunity to attend conferences for SPIE and for other professional societies. Students attend the conferences to present papers on their own work and have a chance to listen to papers from researchers around the world.

“It’s a significant part of their education,” Coleman said. “We need to create new knowledge and we need to share it. It gives students the opportunity to network and learn about other people’s work.”

Earlier this year Coleman was elected the National Academy of Engineering. He received the Technology Achievement Award from SPIE in 2011. In 2008 he received the David Sarnoff Award from IEEE and the Distinguished Service Award from the Lasers and Electro-Optics Society (LEOS). In addition to SPIE, he is also a Fellow of IEEE, the Optical Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society.