Electrical Engineering Department's New Leader is Photonics Pioneer
Oct. 29, 2013
Dr. James Coleman
Dr. James Coleman, a leader in the development and application of semiconductor lasers and photonic devices, recently joined UT Dallas to lead the Department of Electrical Engineering, a cornerstone in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Previously, Coleman was an endowed professor of electrical engineering and materials science and engineering at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a pioneer in the process known as metalorganic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD), which is used to create complex semiconductor structures. This method is widely used in the manufacturing of photonics – technologies that combine the physics of light with electricity. The technology helps transmit information that is communicated through cellphones, desktop Internet in homes, medical equipment in hospitals, among other uses.
“We are extremely fortunate and pleased to have an internationally renowned researcher and leader like Jim Coleman come to UT Dallas to head our Electrical Engineering Department,” said Dr. Mark W. Spong, dean of the Jonsson School and holder of both the Lars Magnus Ericsson and Excellence in Education endowed chairs. “Jim brings an enormous wealth of talent and experience from a top-five engineering school, and the timing could not be better to help the Jonsson School reach our Tier One goals.”
“Jim brings an enormous wealth of talent and experience from a top-five engineering school and the timing could not be better to help the Jonsson School reach our Tier One
In the early 1990s, Coleman’s group challenged the traditional paradigm about the practicalities of using layers of materials of different physical sizes, known as strained layers, in semiconductor devices. Conventional wisdom was that devices made of these layers would be impractical because under stress these strained layers would bend and fail.
“What we found, to our surprise, was that lasers with these layers could have a small amount of strain and interesting properties, and they did not fail; in fact, quite contrary, they lasted longer,” Coleman said. “This finding opened a new class of structures that makes better and different lasers that were not previously practical.”
Strained layers are used in everyday electronic devices, such as CD and DVD players.
In 2012, Coleman was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for contributions to semiconductor lasers and photonic materials.
Coleman earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from The University of Illinois in the 1970s. At that time, semiconductor lasers were only about a decade old and impractical. The possibility of future applications and the combination of topics that interested Coleman – magnetics, semiconductors, quantum mechanics, materials and devices – drew his attention to the field.
Coleman spent several years working for Bell Laboratories and Rockwell International, where he helped demonstrate the effectiveness of the MOCVD process to make lasers, solar cells and photodetectors with better performance characteristics.
“I spend a lot of time telling students that there is a world of difference between interesting and useful,” Coleman said. “You can be interested in something, but you have to ultimately be concerned about what is useful.”
He then went back to The University of Illinois as a professor, where he brought his experience making semiconductors using MOCVD, which then was still a new process. His work has led to wider applications of semiconductor lasers and manufacture and production on a more economical and feasible scale. His research refined not only semiconductor devices, but also the materials used to make them.
Dr. James Coleman
TITLE: Electrical Engineering Department head and Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science Distinguished Chair
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Strained layer lasers, self-assembled and patterned quantum dots, and low threshold and high-power single mode index guided lasers and arrays
PREVIOUSLY: Endowed professor of electrical engineering and materials science and engineering at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
EDUCATION: Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from The University of Illinois
“Working on semiconductors is a two-part problem: the device and the materials,” he said. “If you found something interesting about materials, then you had to find a way to get it into a device. I have always enjoyed that push and pull between materials and devices. Which one is pushing and which one is pulling is not always obvious.”
Coleman came to UT Dallas this fall to lead the Department of Electrical Engineering, which is typically in the top 15 U.S. programs for the number of degrees awarded annually. In the last five years, the Jonsson School has added four departments that complement the research of the electrical engineering department: materials science and engineering, mechanical engineering, bioengineering and systems engineering. In 2008, the University also became home to the Texas Analog Center of Excellence, or TxACE, whose University members include faculty from the electrical engineering department.
“UT Dallas and the Jonsson School are growing and vibrant,” Coleman said. “You feel better, younger and more energetic here.”
Coleman holds nine U.S. patents and has authored more than 425 papers. In addition to the National Academy of Engineering, Coleman is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Optical Society of America (OSA), the American Physical Society, SPIE and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Other accolades include receiving the Distinguished Lecturer Award and William Streifer Award given by the IEEE Photonics Society; the David Sarnoff Award given by IEEE; the Nick Holonyak Jr. Award given by the OSA; and the John Tyndall Award given jointly by the IEEE Photonics Society and OSA.
At UT Dallas, Coleman is holder of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science Distinguished Chair and will continue his research on strained layer lasers, self-assembled and patterned quantum dots, and low threshold and high-power single mode index guided lasers and arrays.