News

Rod Alferness, Dean of UCSB’s College of Engineering and ECE faculty member, named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

December 14th, 2018

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Alferness joins 147 other renowned academic inventors for the NAI’s class of 2018, individuals who hail from research universities and from government and non-profit research institutes across the nation

Some of the best inventions are the ones you don’t even know you’re using; so integrated in current technology, they are a seamless part of your daily life. So it is for the estimated 3.2 billion of us who rely on the internet for instant communication, education, entertainment and simply to stay connected to the world — using a variety of media, it all comes naturally with the push of a button.

Twenty years ago, however, the idea of such rapid communications was nothing more than a dream. Reality consisted of slow-loading websites, delayed messages, unreliable signals and unreadable files. The fiberoptic information superhighway was still coming into its own, and scientists and engineers realized that to satisfy the skyrocketing demand for true high-speed data transmission, they’d have to exploit the properties of light to their fullest extent.

Rod Alferness, the Dean of the UCSB College of Engineering and an ECE faculty member, was among that forward-thinking group. With his colleagues at Bell Labs at the time, he worked to enhance the emerging optical telecommunications infrastructure with devices and architecture that not only eliminated the bottleneck on the information superhighway, but also vastly improved its capacity.

Among Alferness’s most notable accomplishments is his work with wavelength-division-multiplexed networks, which allow data to be sent back and forth through a single fiber via different wavelengths (colors) of light. His research led to development of titanium-diffused lithium niobate waveguide modulators, now standard devices in fiber optic transmission systems worldwide — and one of the reasons we can today chat, stream, search, conduct business, work remotely and generally stay connected online, in real-time. Such capability has opened the doors to new commerce, a modernized workforce and new avenues of expression and communication.

Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional distinction bestowed upon academic inventors who have, according to the NAI, “demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.”

“Our campus is excited to collectively congratulate Dean Alferness on his election to the National Academy of Inventors, a proud recognition of his innovation and creativity at the forefront of engineering in the interest of humanity,” said UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang. “Rod’s leading research has been central to the development of fiber optic communications networks across the globe — just one example of his many contributions to society.”

“I am both highly honored and deeply humbled by this recognition,” Alferness said upon learning the news. “The National Academy of Inventors includes so many marvelous people whose shared spirit of fearless innovation has inspired me throughout my career. To be recognized among such company is extremely gratifying.”

The Richard A. Auhll Professor and Dean of UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering, Alferness leads one of the world’s consistently top-rated and productive engineering schools. The campus generates an average of 90 invention disclosures annually, the majority of which come from one of the college’s five disciplines and world-class facilities.

Alferness and the other new fellows will be inducted at NAI’s Eighth Annual Meeting, to be held in Houston, Texas, April 10-11, 2019.

The UCSB Current – "A Prolific Spirit of Innovation" (full article)

Alferness's COE Profile