Yasha Yi

University of Michigan, USA

For significant contributions in integrated photonics and optoelectronics.

Yasha Yi’s interest in science started in middle school. In those early science classes, he learned answers to many of the questions that had puzzled him since childhood, and he was hooked. He would continue in science, eventually completing his PhD at MIT with research in integrated photonics. His mentors there were influential in his work, and directly lead him to find a passion for photonics. Since his early days in research, Yasha has been a member of the society. He says, “I have benefitted quite a lot and [made] many friends who later [became] my collaborators...the society has provided an invaluable platform for me to learn so [much] interesting research in the photonics field.”

Yasha’s career has been defined by doing research in newly emerging areas. In fact, identifying promising research areas is a noted turning point in his work. Right after his Ph.D., Yasha joined 3M’s Central Research Lab, where he researched the next generation thin film solar cells, on-chip bio sensors, LED light extraction, and medical imaging. He remembers, “[we used] textured optoelectronic crystals for next generation thin film solar cells for renewable and clean energy, setting the foundations of the field…Today, this field is becoming a thriving field with many new phenomena and applications.” He later returned to academia, and he currently is Professor and Program Director in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Michigan. He says, “Now our research lab has a very important direction, which is to put the integrated optoelectronic components in the vehicles, robots, and UAVs to realize the future of autonomous driving and intelligent systems.” He comments that the areas of autonomous driving and smart vehicles are hot topics in the field, and Michigan, a state with a strong auto R&D output, is a great place to do this kind of research.

In his more than 20 years in active research, Yasha has found “fundamental knowledge of electromagnetics…one of the key factors for a successful career in optics and photonics.” As one of his favorite school subjects, understanding electromagnetics has afforded him the basis for many different areas of research. Today, he is most excited by integrated photonics enabling artificial intelligence. He says that the recent “remarkable progress” has led to real-world applications.

Collaboration is of high importance to Yasha. When asked what his favorite part of research was, he responded, “Learning from and forming friendships with my collaborators and graduate students.” He emphasizes the importance of learning from graduate students, as much as from collaborators or peers. His advice to scientists just starting out aligns with his own career: “Be vigilant on the areas with future promising applications.”

Photo Credit: Yasha Yi

Profile written by Samantha Hornback