Duke University Names Kristina Johnson New Engineering Dean

DURHAM, N.C. -- Kristina Johnson, a University of Colorado electrical engineering professor and leader in interdisciplinary research that melds light with electronics, has been named dean of the Duke University School of Engineering, Provost John Strohbehn announced Wednesday.

Johnson, 42, is an internationally known expert in optics, signal processing and computing and director emeritus of the Optoelectronics Computing Systems Center at the University of Colorado. She succeeds Earl Dowell, who is stepping down June 30 after an unprecedented 16-year term leading Duke's engineering school.

"Her expertise, energy and leadership skills will enable the school of engineering to build upon its many existing strengths and achievements to become a world-class school of engineering," Strohbehn said.

Said Johnson: "I'm very excited about the tremendous opportunity to be part of a program that is very successful, and with the university's commitment to take it to the next level. I think it's a singular opportunity in engineering in the country right now."

Johnson's research and teaching are in such areas as holography, which is the creation of three-dimensional images with light wave interference patterns, along with optical and signal processing, liquid crystal electro-optics and affixing a novel variety of liquid crystals to silicon to create new types of miniature displays and computer monitors.

Optoelectronic devices are those in which light as well as or instead of electricity is used to transmit information or energy. Such devices include photodetectors and solar cells that convert light into electrical current, light-emitting diodes and semiconductor lasers that convert electricity into light, and optical fibers that guide light from source to detector.

Over the last few decades, optoelectronics has become the basis for a mammoth communications and computing industry, spawning inventions ranging from worldwide networks of high-capacity optical fiber communications to laser-based disk recorders and players for computer data, music and movies.

Johnson holds about 30 patents, and her own research projects have provided the University of Colorado about $42 million in grants and contracts.

She has also been active in engineering education, winning a regional Emmy nomination in 1991 for a 10-part educational television series, "Physics of Light." This series and its curriculum were distributed to schools throughout the Rocky Mountain region. The series for 5th to 8th graders was also aired on the local NBC affiliate.

"It was a 'wizards' type program," she said. "Every night on TV they would show a three-minute clip of me and the local weatherman demonstrating a principle in the lab using equipment that might not be available in their classrooms.

"One thing I'm thinking might be fun is to start a 'what is Engineering' wizards program at Duke, and have programs on Saturday where kids from local schools would come in and we would get our eminent engineering professors to illustrate - maybe with the chemistry and physics departments - the principles of force and sound and electricity and light, to get younger kids interested in careers in science, mathematic and engineering."

Johnson is the first woman to lead Duke's 60-year-old School of Engineering. According to the American Society of Engineering Education, there are five other permanent, and one acting, female deans of engineering in the United States.

Johnson was named a Presidential Young Investigator in 1985, among the highest honors given to a young engineer, and that year she also helped found the Colorado Advanced Technology Institute Center of Excellence in Optoelectronics. In 1994, she was named one of the nation's top 100 engineers under 40 by the National Academy of Engineering.

She is also a fellow of the Optical Society of America and winner of the 1993 International Denis Gabor Medal for Outstanding Achievements in Modern Optics. In 1994, she received the Photonics Spectra Circle of Excellence Award for her invention of a new form of liquid crystal display. In 1996, she was given the Colorado Technology Transfer Award for her work with industry.

While at Colorado, Johnson co-founded two spinoff companies. One is ColorLink Inc., which makes components for color projection devices based on differing polarizations, or vibrational states, of light. Another, called KAJ, LLC, was set up as an intellectual property licensing company to assist the startups of new firms using technology pioneered at her center.

Johnson received her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She joined the University of Colorado faculty in 1985 after research work at IBM and Trinity College in Ireland.

She also excelled in sports, playing varsity hockey and lacrosse at Stanford, competing at the international level in cricket while in Ireland, and earning a red belt in Tae Kwon Do, the level just below black belt.