UC Berkeley professors elected to National Academy of Inventors

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Three UC Berkeley professors have been elected to the National Academy of Inventors, or NAI, an organization that recognizes and celebrates inventors in academia.

After an extensive nomination, review and election process, NAI, which was founded in 2010, named professors Tsu-Jae King Liu and Eli Yablonovitch of UC Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department and Daniel Portnoy of the molecular and cell biology department and School of Public Health as fellows. Liu, Yablonovitch and Portnoy join 152 other fellows elected to the academy this year.

“Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional accolade bestowed to academic inventors,” according to the announcement from NAI. “(They) have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and welfare of society.”

Portnoy, who has dozens of domestic and international patents, is the campus’s Edward E. Penhoet distinguished chair in global public health and infectious diseases. Portnoy is also a leading expert on the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.

His research and patents, which include methods for manipulating L. monocytogenes to induce a host’s immune system to attack cancer cells, have led to cancer vaccines and immunotherapies.

Thomas Burke, a postdoctoral fellow who previously worked in Portnoy’s lab, said he admired Portnoy’s creativity.

“He’s able to take what he’s discovered at a basic science level and he’s able to … apply that to help human health directly,” Burke said. “Dan(iel)’s at the forefront, the intersection, where his discoveries can potentially be made into products.”

Portnoy said patents can foster private sector partnerships, which help translate research into real-world solutions.

Yablonovitch is a pioneer in the field of optoelectronics, technology that facilitates human interactions with the internet. He is also the director of the National Science Foundation Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science.

Yablonovitch’s startup company, Ethertronics Inc., has shipped 1.7 billion cell phone antennae, while Luxtera Inc., a company that he co-founded, is the world leader of silicon photonics, a technology that uses light to transfer data faster and over longer distances.

Liu, who holds 95 patents and has 70 pending, is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company distinguished professor in microelectronics. Her work has helped the industry overcome barriers related to the size and efficiency of transistors and has helped make faster and more capable electronic devices. She was also recently inducted into the National Academy of Engineering.

“It’s always possible to make things stronger or faster, but the challenge for engineering is meeting practical constraints,” Liu said. “That’s where innovations are needed.”

“A lot of people have been congratulating me, but I’ve been very fortunate to be at UC Berkeley,” Liu said. “I think a lot of my ideas have come about because of things that I’ve learned with my colleagues and students over the years.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.