Honoring Life Fellow B. Jayant Baliga

Semiconductor pioneer teaches us the importance of hard work and support

6 November 2014

Photo: IEEE.tv

My inspiration for writing this post is to honor Life Fellow B. Jayant Baliga, who is the recipient of this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor, the highest award given by the organization. Baliga is a pioneer of power semiconductor devices, and received the recognition “for the invention, implementation, and commercialization of power semiconductor devices with widespread benefits to society.”

Baliga’s invention of the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT), an energy-efficient transistor, is used in lightbulbs, home appliances, and other applications. This one invention has saved consumers more than US $15 trillion in energy savings to date, according to Forbes, and tremendously reduced the amount of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. “Because of the IGBT, the world has not had to build at least 600 hydroelectric dams the size of the Hoover Dam,” said Baliga in an interview with the publication.

The reason I admire him, however, is more than just this success. It’s his hard work. After obtaining his undergraduate degree, Baliga moved to the United States from India with just $50. He arrived with the goal to conduct research on technology and worked his way up to a career with General Electric and then as a professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, where he is today. IEEE was not the only one to recognize his contributions to the field. In 2010, he received the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest award for an engineer in the United States, which was presented to him by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Watch B. Jayant Baliga tell his story about his life in India, his family, and his engineering accomplishments over the years.

Baliga also has a supportive, loving family. He is the son of an electrical engineer and lived in a house full of electronics and physics books that inspired him to become one too. He’s been married since 1975 and has two sons who also chose to follow their father’s path and become electrical engineers.

Individuals like Baliga show us that people who strive to reach their goals can make a huge impact in the world. This type of work ethic is what led him to hold more than 100 patents, author more than 500 academic articles, and get recognized by so many, including publications such as Scientific American magazine, which put him on its list of “Eight Heroes of the Semiconductor Revolution.”

In one of his interviews, Baliga said that he wrote in his graduate school application: “I have a hope to develop a technology that helps mankind.” I thank him for seeing this through.

For the rest of us, there is a lot more to be done in our industry that will help society. To accomplish these goals, we need to attain the confidence that we can take on such tasks by gaining more knowledge, being passionate about our work, and sharpening our skills, as Baliga did.

Nothing comes easily. It took Baliga 45 years to reach this much success. There is no short cut to doing so, only the desire to get there some day. As someone who also came to the United States looking for opportunity, and am also an electrical engineer who has a goal to do something that touches people’s lives, I know the obstacles of what it takes to achieve the success he did. By following his story, I feel hopeful that I can achieve great things too if I continue to work hard.

I admit that to some extent I was going to give up on my dreams, often due to failures and hardship. But after learning about Baliga, I decided to keep going. He is a great example of an engineer and a human being.

Qusi Alqarqaz is an IEEE member who works as an electrical engineering designer and consultant. You can find more posts by him on his blog.

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