People, Awards

Eli Yablonovitch wins 2019 Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering

By Kara Manke

A photo of Eli Yablonovitch
UC Berkeley faculty member Eli Yablonovitch is the newly announced recipient of a 2019 Franklin Medal. (Noah Berger photo)
A photo of Eli Yablonovitch

UC Berkeley faculty member Eli Yablonovitch is the newly announced recipient of a 2019 Franklin Medal. (Noah Berger photo)

Eli Yablonovitch, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley, will be the recipient of the 2019 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering, the Franklin Institute announced today.

Yablonovitch is being honored “for widely used scientific improvements to radio- and light-based technologies in wireless communications and solar energy applications.”

The Franklin Institute awards have celebrated breakthroughs in science and technology since the Philadelphia science center was founded in honor of Benjamin Franklin in 1824.

“I’m truly honored by this award. It’s especially gratifying to receive a medal named after Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father whose scientific achievements and fame played a significant role in diplomacy, as he negotiated for the success of this country,” said Yablonovitch, who holds the James and Katherine Lau Chair in Engineering.

Yablonovitch was among six recipients of the Benjamin Franklin Medal and two recipients of the Bower Award, which recognize achievements in the fields of computer and cognitive science, earth and environmental science, electrical engineering, life science, materials engineering, physics, business leadership and general achievement in science.

UC Berkeley alums Frances Arnold and Marcia K. Johnson and former faculty members James P. Allison and John J. Hopfield were also recognized by the institute.

Yablonovitch is the inventor of a class of materials dubbed “photonic crystals,” which can be used to control light waves in much the same way that semiconductors can be used control electronic currents. His pioneering work has revolutionized technologies ranging from optical communications to light-emitting diodes. He now studies a variety of topics, including nonlinear and quantum optics, strained-quantum-well lasers, light-emitting diodes and transistors.

Announcing the 2019 Franklin Institute Awards Laureates from The Franklin Institute on Vimeo .

Arnold, who shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry, studied biofuels while a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley. She will receive the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science “for pioneering the development of directed protein evolution — a paradigm shift in the engineering of biological catalysts that mimics natural evolution in a laboratory setting and enables greener, less energy-intensive, and less polluting manufacturing processes.”

Marcia K. Johnson, a professor emeritus at Yale University, earned her Ph. D. from UC Berkeley in 1971. She has been selected as the recipient of the Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science “for developing innovative models of human memory with applications in psychology, brain science, human development and our understanding of the malleability of memory in real-world settings.”

Allison, now at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, conducted his Nobel Prize-winning work in cancer-fighting immunotherapy while a faculty member at UC Berkeley. He will receive the Franklin Medal in Life Science for “furthering our understanding of the body’s immune system, and for conceiving and developing a new therapeutic approach that uses the immune system to successfully treat cancer.”

Former UC Berkeley professor John J. Hopfield, a professor at Princeton University, won the Franklin Medal in Physics for “applying concepts of theoretical physics to provide new insights on important biological questions in a variety of areas, including neuroscience and genetics, with significant impact on machine learning, an area of computer science.”

The awardees will be recognized at a gala ceremony and dinner on Thursday, April 11, 2019, in the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial at the Franklin Institute.