JJ Hu: Exploring interactions of light and matter

Growing up in a small town in Fujian province in southern China, Professor Juejun Hu was exposed to engineering from an early age. His father, trained as a mechanical engineer, spent his career working first in that field, then in electrical engineering, and then civil engineering.

“He gave me early exposure to the field. He brought me books and told me stories of interesting scientists and scientific activities,” Hu recalls. So when it came time to go to college — in China students have to choose their major before enrolling — he picked materials science, figuring that field straddled his interests in science and engineering. He pursued that major at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

He never regretted that decision. “Indeed, it’s the way to go,” he says. “It was a serendipitous choice.”

In his work at the Institute, he has focused on optical and photonic devices, whose applications include improving high-speed communications, observing the behavior of molecules, designing better medical imaging systems, and developing innovations in consumer electronics such as display screens and sensors.

Hu is now developing devices to transmit information at very high rates, for data centers or high-performance computers. This includes work on devices called optical diodes or optical isolators, which allow light to pass through only in one direction, and systems for coupling light signals into and out of photonic chips.

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