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Making History

Prof. Kei May LAU Became the First-Ever Woman Recipient of IET J. J. Thomson Medal for Electronics

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Prof. Kei May Lau is the first-ever woman winner of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s J. J. Thomson Medal for Electronics since it was first presented 44 years ago.
Prof. Kei May Lau is the first-ever woman winner of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s J. J. Thomson Medal for Electronics since it was first presented 44 years ago. [Download Photo]

Prof. Kei May LAU, Chair Professor of Electronic and Computer Engineering, has been awarded the 2020 J. J. Thomson Medal for Electronics by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) for her fundamental work in compound semiconductor materials and device physics.

Prof. Lau is the first woman winner of this prestigious international accolade since it was first presented in 1976.

Her work has not only led to the development of technologies critical to present-day energy-efficient and high-performance photonics and electronics, but also had major impact on current high-speed and low power optoelectronic devices for ubiquitous internet communication. She is one of the few female world-renowned researchers in the electronics and optoelectronics technology sector, and serves as a prominent role model for generations of women engineers entering this promising field.

The J. J. Thomson Medal is one of IET’s Achievement Awards. Recognizing some of the world’s top engineering talents, the IET Achievement Awards acknowledge individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of science, engineering and technology in any sector, either through research and development in their respective technical field or through their leadership of an enterprise.

Prof. Danielle George, IET President, said: “We are honored to present these talented individuals with our Achievement Awards. They have each excelled in their professions and have made a vast contribution as pioneers of important areas in the engineering and technology industries. They should all be very proud of their achievements – they are amazing difference makers.”

The winners, who were nominated by their peers, and selected by a panel of IET judges, are leading engineers and technologists across the globe.

“I am truly humbled and honored to be placed in the same league as other electronics giants such as Prof. HU Chenming (2019 winner),” said Prof. Lau.

Prof. Lau is internationally known for her work in heteroepitaxy of III-V photonics (lasers, LEDs and photodetectors) and electronics (millimetre wave, logic and power transistors), as well as GaN LEDs on Si substrates. Among her most notable work is the development of the world’s first bufferless telecommunication wavelength (1.5 micro-meter) III-V semiconductor lasers grown directly on industry-standard 220-nanometer silicon-on-insulator (SOI) wafers. The innovation heralds a way forward for achieving the long-sought and challenging goal of fully integrated silicon (Si)-based photonic integrated circuits with truly on-chip laser sources. Such significant global optoelectronic advance has brought the prospect of major improvements to the infrastructure of high-speed network communications in data centers one step closer, potentially leading to faster, cheaper services as well as novel applications once practically applied and integrated.

Prof. Lau was born and raised in Hong Kong. She went to the United States for her bachelor and master’s degrees in physics at the University of Minnesota and her PhD in electrical engineering at the Rice University. She worked on microwave devices at an engineering company in Massachusetts, before switching to academic at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she became a full professor in 1993. She joined HKUST in 2000 and established the Photonics Technology Center.

She is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), The Optical Society (OSA), and the Hong Kong Academy of Engineering Sciences (HKAES). She has received numerous awards including the OSA Nick Holonyak Jr. Award, IEEE Photonics Society Aron Kressel Award, the US National Science Foundation Faculty Award for Women Scientists and Engineers, and the Hong Kong Croucher Senior Research Fellowship.


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