National Academy of Inventors Welcomes Two UA Professors as Fellows

Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Tom Koch (left) and Harrison Barrett (right). Photos: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona (Koch) and Ameé Hennig (Barrett)

Tom Koch (left) and Harrison Barrett (right). Photos: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona (Koch) and Ameé Hennig (Barrett)

Two distinguished University of Arizona professors and innovators have been named as Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). Dr. Thomas Koch, professor and dean of the College of Optical Sciences, and Dr. Harrison Barrett, Regents’ Professor of Medical Imaging, Optical Sciences and Applied Mathematics, will now join a growing cadre of distinguished Fellows from the UA.

According to its website, the NAI Fellows Program “was established to highlight academic inventors who 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 the welfare of society.”

Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional distinction awarded to academic inventors. The program has 912 fellows worldwide representing more than 250 universities, government organizations and non-profit research institutes.

“This is an outstanding reflection of the talent and expertise in the UA College of Optical Sciences,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins, “not to mention an incredibly well-deserved honor for both Dean Koch and Dr. Barrett. They are two of the most accomplished individuals I have had the opportunity to get to know, and they are both excellent examples for why the UA has become a global leader in optics. I am very proud to see their accomplishments nationally recognized in this way.”

Thomas Koch, PhD, Professor and Dean, College of Optical Sciences

“Throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with some incredibly innovative and creative people,” said Dr. Koch. “Many of them have also been recognized by the Academy, and it’s an honor to be welcomed into their community.”

Dr. Koch has lived fully in the two worlds of high-tech private companies and academia and has made significant innovative contributions in both. As the dean of the UA College of Optical Sciences, he has combined a broad perspective on the problems facing manufacturers of the photonics-based telecommunications industry and a deep understanding of the physics underlying the much-needed inventive solutions to those problems.

Prior to his academic roles at the UA and at Lehigh University, he spent many years in research at Bell Laboratories, and held research and development vice president positions at SDL, Lucent Technologies, and Agere Systems where he was responsible for research as well as optical and IC technology platform development in support of broad product portfolios. In recognition "for contributions to optoelectronic technologies and their implementation in optical communications systems," he was inducted in 2006 into the National Academy of Engineering. His pioneering contributions to semiconductor optoelectronics, photonic integrated circuits, and optical fiber communications were also recognized with the IEEE LEOS William Streifer Award for Scientific Achievement, the IEEE LEOS Distinguished Lecturer Award, and IEEE Eric E. Sumner Award in 2008. He is also an IEEE Fellow, OSA Fellow, and Bell Laboratories Fellow.

From 1995 to 1996, Dr. Koch was vice president of research and development at SDL Inc., before he returned to Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies to become chief technical officer of optoelectronic products and director of semiconductor photonics research. In 2000, he became vice president of technology platforms at Lucent and then Agere Systems, where he managed the research and development of optoelectronics and integrated circuit devices during the telecommunications boom.

Many of Dr. Koch's 37 issued patents are from his private enterprise days and were used by the company he was working for at the time or licensed to other companies and became part of the existing infrastructure for modern optical telecommunications. His work in the area of photonics has led to improved optical fiber communication links that form the backbone of today’s Internet and telecommunications networks. His broad spectrum of contributions extend from the design and demonstration of new concepts in semiconductor lasers to providing new approaches to modeling optoelectronic devices and their impact on fiber communication system performance. His role in the development of photonic integrated circuits, single microchips containing many microscopic photonic components, enabled the incorporation of highly sophisticated functions at lower cost and higher reliability.

Dr. Koch continues with his inventive influence at the UA, where his drive and knowledge of industry needs helped the UA, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and others win the $600M AIM Photonics public-private partnership to advance US photonic integration manufacturing technology. His leadership and creative thinking set the bar for faculty, research staff and students to produce novel manufacturing techniques to advance the commercial feasibility of photonic integrated circuits.

“Dr. Koch's prolific spirit of innovation along with his endless energy and enthusiasm for knowledge and problem solving inspire students, faculty – both junior and seasoned – and even industry players to use their science and technology educations to solve ongoing problems, from telecommunications to medical imaging,” said Doug Hockstad, Assistant Vice President of Tech Launch Arizona. “As a leader in both academia and industry, Dr. Koch is an outstanding example of the creative and inventive mind that the National Academy of Inventors represents.”

Harrison Barrett, PhD, Regents’ Professor, Medical Imaging, Optical Sciences and Applied Mathematics

Though trained as a physicist, Dr. Barrett now regards his scientific specialty as Image Science, an emerging field that strives to provide unified theories, design principles and evaluation methods for all forms of imaging. In recent projects his group has applied the methodologies of image science to problems in astronomy and optical metrology, but his main focus has always been medical imaging, especially nuclear medicine.

In recognition of his achievements, he was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, and he has won numerous awards including the IEEE Medal for Innovations in Healthcare Technology and the Humboldt Prize. In 1990 he was named a Regents’ Professor in the College of Optical Sciences and in the College of Medicine Department of Medical Imaging.

Dr. Barrett credits his success to his students.

“Most of my achievements and recognition, including this award, must be attributed to the incredible cadre of students I have mentored,” he says. “I have had the great pleasure of supervising 64 PhD dissertations at the U of A and then watching these graduates transform the field of image science, taking leadership positions in industry, government or academia. The University of Arizona is a magnet for the best and brightest students, and it is a joy to introduce them to image science.”

In an ongoing effort to create cross-disciplinary relationships, Dr. Barrett has created a fund to promote engagement between medical and optics researchers to address the gaps in medical imaging technology. This fund extends his influence beyond his own lab and research and has spawned at least one new startup that is developing an endoscopic probe able to simultaneously illuminate and intuitively display forward- and rear-facing views for a 360-degree perspective.

Dr. Barrett's formal inventorship dates back to 1974 and now includes 27 issued US patents. While working at Raytheon Research Division in the 1960s and 1970s, he explored ways to detect the relative motion of sources of high-energy radiation. In 1974, he began his academic career at the UA, where his interests spread to tomographic imaging, scintillation cameras, CT and SPECT imaging devices and autoradiography. 

In recent projects, the focus and passion of Dr. Barrett's group has remained in medical imaging, especially nuclear medicine. He has had over forty years of continuous NIH funding, primarily through the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). Dr. Barrett is also the founding director of the Center for Gamma-Ray Imaging (CGRI) at the UA, now in its 20th year. Many of his more recent patents and patent applications have stemmed from the work at CGRI – work that is also spawning more startups and licenses. The most successful new company to arise from CGRI, inviCRO LLC in Boston, now has over 300 employees.

By design, Dr. Barrett's research program promotes clinical translation of the technologies developed in all of the projects, and to that end, CGRI has had collaborations with six major cancer centers: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Chicago Cancer Center, Moffitt Cancer Center, Translational Genomics Institute and National University of Ireland Galway. 

“Throughout Dr. Barrett's academic career, he has pursued solutions to real-world problems to improve people’s health and well-being,” said Hockstad. “His dedication and ability to think beyond conventional wisdom has inspired his students to continue that pursuit through both academics and entrepreneurship.”

Dr. Koch and Dr. Barrett will be inducted into the organization at a ceremony during the NAI annual meeting to take place on April 10 and 11, 2019, in Houston, Texas.

They join these other UA professors and inventors previously honored as NAI Fellows: Roger Angel, PhD, Regents’ Professor of Astronomy and Optical Sciences; Nasser Peyghambarian, PhD, Professor of Optical Science and Materials Science and Engineering; Dr. Marvin Slepian, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Medical Imaging and Medicine; James Wyant, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Optical Sciences, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dean of the College of Optical Sciences; and Dr. Frederic Zenhausern, Professor of Basic Medical Sciences and Director for the Center for Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix.

- written by Paul Tumarkin and Amy Phillips
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