2024-03-12: Sad News - Engineering Professor Emeritus Herbert Kroemer has passed

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

I am deeply saddened to share with you the news that our esteemed colleague and friend Professor Emeritus Herbert Kroemer passed away on Friday, March 8. 

A distinguished member of our faculty since 1976, Professor Kroemer played a foundational role in transforming UC Santa Barbara into a leader in engineering and materials science. He held the prestigious Donald W. Whittier Chair of Electrical Engineering in our Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with a joint faculty appointment in our Department of Materials, where we have an endowed chair named in his honor. An exemplar of the interdisciplinary culture of our campus, he was also an inspirer of and part of our Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center. 

Before coming to UC Santa Barbara, Professor Kroemer taught electrical engineering at the University of Colorado from 1968 to 1976. Previously, he worked in several research laboratories in Germany and the United States. Herb, who was born in Germany and became a U.S. citizen in 2003, received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics in 1952 from the University of Göttingen, Germany. His dissertation on hot-electron effects in what was then a novel transistor set the stage for a career in research on the physics and technology of semiconductors and semiconductor devices.

At UC Santa Barbara, Professor Kroemer persuaded our ECE Department to put its limited resources for expanding our small semiconductor research program, not into mainstream silicon technology, but into the emerging compound semiconductor technology. In this field, Professor Kroemer saw an opportunity for UC Santa Barbara to become one of the leading institutions. He became the first member of the research group, thus founding a second-to-none hub in the world in the physics and technology of compound semiconductors.

A highlight of Professor Kroemer’s career came in October 2000, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed- and opto-electronics." His Nobel Prize-winning concept of the double-heterostructure laser became the dominant design of semiconductor lasers, with billions of double-heterostructure lasers used worldwide. My wife, Dilling, and I had the honor of joining him and his wife, Mary Lou, in Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony. It is a day we will remember always. 

Professor Kroemer’s pioneering research in the field of heterostructures also led to the high-efficiency bright blue LED debuted by UC Santa Barbara Professor Shuji Nakamura, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. The inventions that have sprung from Professor Kroemer’s discoveries and research are now the basis for many of the technological innovations we use daily – from fiber optic, cell phone, and satellite communications to high-speed transistors and solid-state lighting. 

Professor Kroemer received numerous other national and international honors and awards for his work, including the 2002 IEEE Medal of Honor "for contributions to high-frequency transistors, and hot-electron devices, especially heterostructure devices from heterostructure bipolar transistors to lasers, and their molecular beam epitaxy technology." In 2001, he received the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the highest award given by the German government. He held honorary doctorates from the Technical University of Aachen (Germany, 1985); the University of Lund (Sweden, 1998); and the University of Colorado (United States, 2001). He was a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). 

It was a privilege to know Professor Kroemer, not only as a world-class physicist and innovator, but also as a teacher, colleague, and friend. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and treated everyone with kindness and humanity. Even with his international renown, the one invitation he could never turn down was the opportunity to speak to young students, from elementary to high school. It was amazing to see how he connected with and inspired so many young people. 

He once said, “From the beginning, I’ve always been interested in things that were several generations ahead of what people could do. Small steps didn’t really interest me. I was interested in big steps.” Indeed, Professor Kroemer took big steps throughout his life and work. He was truly an inspiration to us all. 

Professor Kroemer will be dearly missed by our entire UC Santa Barbara community. Our hearts and thoughts go out to his family and his many friends and colleagues near and far. Flowers and condolences for the family may be sent to 2828 Serena Road, Santa Barbara, CA, 93105.

Our colleagues are in conversation to plan a memorial symposium to celebrate Professor Kroemer’s life, and to pay tribute to his unquantifiable contributions to our university, our community, and our world. Our campus flag will be lowered Thursday, March 21, in his memory.


Henry T. Yang