By Adil Abbuthalha and Jeremiah Baxter
Each year, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of California, Davis, recognizes an outstanding alumnus whose professional and personal achievements bring special honor to the department. This year, the ECE Department presented the Distinguished Alumni Award to Professor Constance “Connie” Chang-Hasnain (BS, ’82) of the University of California, Berkeley. This award is the highest recognition presented by the ECE department to alumni.
Since graduating with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from UC Davis, Chang-Hasnain has become a world leader in the field of optics and photonics, specifically semiconductor optoelectronic materials and devices, with extraordinary contributions in vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL). Her inventions have helped to establish VCSELs as the dominant technology for datacenter optical fiber communications, optical coherence tomography and 3D sensing. VCSELs are now widely used in laser printers, cell phone cameras, computer mice and many other modern technical devices.
Professor Chang-Hasnain is currently a distinguished professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley and the Associate Dean for Strategic Alliances for Berkeley’s College of Engineering. She is an IEEE fellow and a member of the National Academy of Engineering since 2009. She was recently elected president of the Optical Society of America (OSA), the largest professional society in optics. She is also a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee to the International Commission on Optics in the National Academy of Sciences and received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences in 2009. She was honored with the 2018 Okawa Prize for her “pioneering and outstanding research of VCSEL photonics through the development of their novel functions for optical communications and optical sensing.”
Professor Chang-Hasnain was presented the Award by the Chair of the ECE Board of Advisors Dr. Babak Taheri (PhD ‘94) during the Industrial Affiliates Symposium on Friday, April 12, 2019. During the symposium, she gave a keynote presentation on the impact of photonics and VCSELs in the contemporary technologies. She began by reminiscing about when she transferred from a community college back in early 1980. According to Prof. Chang-Hasnain, she received the best possible education to leverage herself into an intern position at Hewlett Packard Labs after only one quarter of course work. She thought her UC Davis experience was transformative and she never felt any barrier to potential careers. Prof. Chang-Hasnain told more than 150 attendees, “At UC Davis, I figured out what I was good at and my professors were really helpful.”
During the award ceremony, Prof. Jonathan Heritage, an ECE Professor Emeritus and a National Academy of Engineering Member, highlighted Chang-Hasnain’s profound achievements and entrepreneurial contributions for the betterment of our world. He shed light on her academic strength, persistence and collaborative attitude that inspired many inventions in the field of photonics. He also mentioned how she inspired him to join UC Davis ECE department when he was planning to make transition from Bell Labs to academia. Their time together at Bell Labs and respect for each other have led to many years of a genuine friendship.
Prof. Chang-Hasnain presented the Best Poster Awards which was given to the top posters from undergraduate and graduate students. She was deeply inspired and hopeful for the next generation of leaders and innovators as she offered words of inspiration to the presenters. The ECE’s industry partners gave over 60 talented undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs an opportunity to showcase the innovative faculty-led research projects.
Professor Chang-Hasnain told the guests how the years she spent at UC Davis are deeply memorable, and will forever be a keystone experience that shaped her future. She holds a firm belief that the ECE Department inspired her interest in photonics, developed her critical thinking ability, and she will be “forever grateful to the ECE Department.” We are truly honored that Prof. Chang-Hasnain and her husband, Dr. Ghulam Hasnain, a fellow photonics research heavyweight, even cancelled her induction ceremony of National Academy of Inventors (NAI) to attended our Industrial Affiliates Symposium.