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SPIE Professional July 2016

Two get SPIE Early Career Achievement Awards

SPIE member and nanophotonics scientist Jie Yao of University of California, Berkeley (USA) and Homan Yuen, Solar Junction cofounder and a partner at NewGen Venture Partners (USA), are recipients of the 2016 SPIE Early Career Achievement Award.

SPIE established the Early Career Achievement Award in 2007 to recognize significant technical contributions in optics and photonics by those whose highest earned degree was awarded within the 10 previous years. Separate categories were created beginning with the 2015 award, one for an academic and the other recognizing excellence in industry or government.

Yao is an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UC Berkeley and received his PhD there in 2010.

Yuen’s PhD was granted by Stanford University in 2006. Both will receive their awards in August at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego.


photo of Jie YaoYao is being recognized for his contributions to the investigation of light-matter interaction at deep-subwavelength scale and the development of optical materials for nanophotonic applications.

Yao’s research focuses on controlling the optical properties of matter through manipulation of structure and chemistry at the nanoscale. His work combines modern theoretical analyses of optical behavior with innovative approaches to the synthesis and fabrication of metamaterials.

“Yao is a rare and extremely creative young scientist with outstanding rigor and depth,” said SPIE Fellow Xiang Zhang of UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. “He has already made significant impacts in the field of optics and photonics,” Zhang said.

His research areas span tunable optical materials, metamaterials, plasmonics, optical cavities, and photovoltaics. Specifically, Yao pioneered the design and realization of indefinite metamaterial, also known as hyperbolic metamaterial, a type of material with unconventional optical properties. He was the first to demonstrate negative refraction of visible light in bulk materials and imaging with an indefinite slab lens.

As a grad student at Berkeley, Yao demonstrated a nanowire-based negative refractive index material as well an ultrasmall 3D deep-subwavelength cavity. These structures exhibit optical properties that do not exist in nature and open completely new areas of optical engineering based on nanostructuring materials.

In his postdoctoral research, Yao gained attention in the PV community by demonstrating the construction of an extremely thin, yet efficient silicon solar cell by properly managing the flow of light using nanostructures. This type of solar cell could substantially reduce materials costs.


photo of Homan YuenYuen is being recognized for the advancement of the dilute nitride semiconductor materials system and commercialization of world-record multi-junction solar cells.

Based upon his PhD research in electrical engineering and materials science at Stanford, Yuen cofounded Solar Junction in 2007 to produce high-efficiency solar cells. Yuen and his team built up the company, raised several rounds of venture financing, and achieved two world-record milestones: efficiency at 43.5% and 44.0%. Completing the entrepreneurial cycle, Solar Junction was acquired by an international firm in 2014.

“Dr. Yuen’s leadership and success in his company have contributed to the position of US solar cell research and development efforts globally in addition to the PV technical community,” said SPIE member Seongsin Margaret Kim, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alabama (USA). “His early career achievement is truly extraordinary and may be a role model for the future generations pursuing entrepreneurship in their careers.”

Yuen holds more than 60 patents and patent applications and has authored numerous refereed publications on lasers, solar cells, semiconductors, optoelectronics, and devices. He and his Solar Junction team received a 2012 R&D 100 Award for the “SJ3” triple-junction solar cell and the 2012 Compound Semiconductor Industry Award for “Most Innovative Device.”

Yuen also received the 2014 North American Molecular Beam Epitaxy Conference’s Young Investigator Award for his pioneering contributions to dilute-nitride PVs.


For nearly six decades, SPIE has presented annual awards to recognize significant achievements and contributions in advancing the science of light.

Look for other stories about award recipients for 2016 in this issue and the October edition of SPIE Professional.

Nominations for the 2017 SPIE awards were due 1 June and will be announced in January 2017 or earlier.

More information: spie.org/awards.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201607.16

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