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Viterbi School's Alan E. Willner elected to Royal Academy of Engineering

RAE salutes his "advanced engineering solutions to some of the most challenging, critical and fundamental problems in optical communications"

July 09, 2010 —

Professor Alan E. Willner of the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering received word from London July 8 that he has been elected an International Fellow of the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Engineering.

Alan E. Willner. For more information about Dr. Willner, click on the image

Willner, Director of the USC Optical Communications Laboratory and recipient of many honors for his contributions to research, engineering education and collaboration with government and industry, joins the Academy with 59 others from England, Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States.

Willner is one of four engineers from the U.S. to be elected, alongside Howard Bruschi, National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Member and former Westinghouse chief technology officer and senior vice president; Robert Langer, MIT Koch Institute Professor and 2008 Millennium Technology Prize winner (NAE, NAS and IOM); and NAE President Charles Vest.

The Royal Academy’s press release noted Willner’s “advanced engineering solutions to some of the most challenging, critical and fundamental problems in optical communications, directly underpinning the development of the field and the growth of the internet. He is distinguished for his leadership roles in the international optical communications community.”

“Alan Willner is a brilliant professional with an exceptional record of significant awards that document his many research achievements,” said Ming Hsieh Department of EE-Systems Chair Alexander A. (Sandy) Sawchuk. “His election to the Royal Academy is further evidence of his outstanding research, teaching and service. Our department congratulates Alan heartily on this honor.”

Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos had high praise for this latest recognition, noting that “through his extraordinary contributions to the profession, including in no small measure to the mutually beneficial collaboration between academia and industry, Alan has truly earned this distinction. On behalf of the school, I applaud his achievement.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering was founded in 1976, with the mission to “promote the engineering and technology welfare of the country. Our fellowship provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. We bring together the most eminent engineers from all disciplines to promote excellence in the science, art and practice of engineering.” With its roster of International Fellows, the Academy’s purpose extends to the broader academy and the tasks it faces in the global community.

Much like the U.S. National Academies, the strategic goals of the Royal Academy are related to enhancing engineering and science education, strengthening ties between academia and industry, increasing the number of students drawn to engineering and the sciences, and influencing public debate and policy.

Alan Willner received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University. He was a postdoctoral member of the Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories (Crawford Hill) and a member of Technical Staff at Bellcore. In addition to heading the USC Optical Communications Lab, he is the associate director of the USC Center for Photonics Technology, co-director of the USC Communications Sciences Institute, and has served as an associate director for student affairs for the NSF Engineering Research Center in Multimedia.

Willner is a member of the Defense Science Research Council (a 16-member advisory body to the DARPA Director and Office Directors), has served as president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Photonics Society (formerly IEEE Lasers & Electro-Optics Society [IEEE LEOS]), and has also served on several scientific advisory boards for small companies, and has advised several venture capital firms. He is currently editor-in-chief of the prestigious OSA Optics Letters of the Optical Society of America, and the associate editor of the IEEE/OSA Journal of Optical Communications and Networking. Willner has authored or co-authored more than 850 publications, including two books. He holds 25 patents.

Willner’s list of honors includes a Presidential Faculty Fellow Award from the White House, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship in Science & Engineering, the National Science Foundation National Young Investigator Award, a Fulbright Foundation Senior Scholar Lecturing and Research Fellowship, the IEEE LEOS Distinguished Lecturer Award, the IEEE LEOS Distinguished Service Award, the Optical Society of America (OSA) Leadership Award/New Focus Prize, the 2001 Eddy Paper Award from Pennwell Publications for the Best Contributed Technical Article (across all 30 magazines in Pennwell's Advanced Technology Division), and the Edwin Howard Armstrong Foundation Memorial Award for the highest-ranked EE masters student at Columbia University. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and the OSA, and he was a Fellow of the Semiconductor Research Corporation. Prof. Willner was recently an Invited Foreign Dignitary Representing the Sciences for the 2009 Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.

Two days before receiving notice of his RAE election, Willner learned of the second renewal of a 2008 HP Labs Innovation Research Program grant. USC was one of only 52 universities to receive funding from nearly 400 submissions across 36 countries. Willner’s award will continue to fund his development of better means for transferring the massive data loads handled by modern data centers, aligning with HP’s key Intelligent Infrastructure and Cloud Computing themes.

Gerard Medioni of CS and EE also learned that he had won an HP Innovation grant.