NC State has a long history of innovative research — aimed at solving the world’s toughest challenges.
And the way our university’s employees responded to the unique challenges of the past year exemplifies our innovative culture — from the thousands who abruptly pivoted to working remotely, to every researcher who’s shifted focus and pitched in their expertise toward combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, to those who’ve continued to transform technologies into needed products and services by leveraging external partnerships, filing patents or launching new ventures.
Since 1990, NC State has held an annual Celebration of Innovation, awarding an innovator of the year and an entrepreneur of the year. In lieu of the usual celebration and recognition ceremony at The Point, Chancellor Randy Woodson announced the 2020 winners in a virtual-celebration video, which you can watch below.
“In the spirit of our land-grant mission, the world needs NC State to serve as a trusted source of truth, scientific rigor and a source of innovation […] now more than ever,” Woodson says in the video. “And it’s altogether fitting that we recognize our researchers, our innovators, entrepreneurs, partners and investors for their contributions.”
Continue reading to learn more about the winners and others recognized.
Innovator of the Year
Robert Heath received the Innovator of the Year Award for his seminal work in signal processing and wireless communications. Heath’s research has been supported by AT&T, Cisco, Samsung, Qualcomm, Verizon and a variety of other corporations.
Robert Heath, a Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Heath’s pioneering contributions to multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) wireless communications significantly expanded the capabilities of WiFi devices — and helped make it possible to access the internet via cellular networks.
Recognizing that each input and output has an optimum number of data streams it can support, Heath developed a revolutionary concept that allows a wireless communication system to smoothly transition between higher data rates and better reliability. Heath continues to make an impact on the future of wireless communications today, currently partnering with a number of companies to launch a center on 6G cellular systems.
Heath, a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, holds 64 U.S. patents on many aspects of MIMO communications. Heath is also a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which recognized him in 2019 as a winner of the Kiyo Tomiyasu Award.
Entrepreneur of the Year
Fred Kish received the John S. Risley Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the success of multiple optical-communication technologies he’s helped commercialize. Kish‘s work has led to the launch of numerous telecommunications products, which have generated over $10 billion in total revenue.
Fred Kish, the M.C. Dean Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the Nanofabrication Facility
Kish played a key role in the development and commercialization of three technologies that have allowed for significant advancements in the field of fiber-optics: the first commercially available photonic integrated circuit; red-orange-yellow LEDs that were over 200% more efficient than their predecessors; and native oxides that enable peak performance of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, or VCSELs.
Kish was the first employee of Infinera, which now works with major internet service providers throughout the world, and has served as an advisor or consultant for a number of other businesses throughout his nearly 30-year career.
Since joining NC State in 2019, Kish has continued to promote entrepreneurship by expanding the capabilities of the Nanofabrication Facility to better serve small, local companies in addition to academic researchers. Kish is also working with faculty across the College of Engineering to establish a new National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center.
Kish is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which recognized him with the David Sarnoff Award in 2004. Kish is also a previous winner of the IEEE Photonics Society’s Engineering Achievement Award and The Optical Society’s Adolph Lamb Medal.
In 2020, 17 startup companies were launched in partnership with the Office of Research Commercialization, six projects received support from the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund and over 100 faculty members received patents.