Biography of Dr. Kenichi Iga
Dr. Kenichi Iga is responsible for one of the world's major technological breakthroughs that impacts society every day — the vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser, or VCSEL for short. Lasers are ubiquitous in our modern world, many of them found in places and in forms we might never realize. Most people know about laser printers, pointers, and CD/DVD players, but may not stop to think about the scanner in the supermarket checkout line, the fiber optic based data networks that bring them the internet, cable TV, and reliable wireless communications, or even the optical computer mouse on their desktop—all technologies made possible by extremely small and efficient semiconductor lasers.
Today's VCSELs didn't simply appear fully-formed from a flash of inspiration—they're the product of a long evolution and experimental process that Dr. Iga began almost forty years ago. Born in Japan, Dr. Iga was educated at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and spent his entire career there, except for a short stint at Bell Laboratories and a guest professorship at Kogakuin University. He first proposed the concept of a surface-emitting laser in 1977, but the journey from concept to practical reality proved challenging.
For more than ten years, Dr. Iga proceeded in carefully reasoned steps, first demonstrating a pulsed surface-emitting laser in 1979 that operated only at very low temperatures, then experimenting with different semiconducting materials and structures before achieving a working continuous-wave room-temperate VCSEL in 1989. This achievement required the development of advanced optically active semiconductor materials, including new high-reflectivity semiconductor mirrors called Distributed Bragg Reflectors, which together form the resonant cavity and the required positive feedback for lasing to occur.
Dr. Iga's dedicated work provided the solid foundation for today's generation of advanced VCSELs for various applications. Because the researchers who followed him built upon that foundation so successfully, Dr. Iga is often considered not merely as the "father" of the VCSEL, but as its "grandfather," in recognition of the overwhelming importance and primacy of his pioneering work pursued, while others totally ignored this important innovation.
Dr. Iga's achievements range beyond the VCSEL, however. He was largely responsible for establishing the field of micro-optics, designing lenses, lens arrays, and waveguides used in various common devices such as digital cameras and camera phones. Outside the laboratory, Dr. Iga has made major contributions to the culture and advancement of the scientific world. Even after his retirement from a long-time faculty position at Tokyo Institute of Technology, he became Executive Director of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, in which he funded vital research projects and promoted international scientific collaborations, including exchange programs between Japanese and American universities. In 2007 he returned to Tokyo Institute of Technology to become its president, a position he held until October 2012. Dr. Iga remains affiliated with the Institute as an emeritus professor.
As our civilization becomes ever more dependent on data networks and seamless communications that form the technological nerves of 21st century, Dr. Iga's ingenious development of the VCSEL and its importance in opto-electronics will undoubtedly be recognized as a seminal achievement on the same level as the transistor, integrated circuit, and CCD. His ground-breaking innovation has opened up new potential and promise for many applications yet to be implemented.