Bell Labs Chief Scientist Named as ME Chair

Professor Alice E. White (ME, MSE)
Professor Alice E. White (ME, MSE)

College of Engineering Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen has appointed Alice White as the new chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department. She succeeds Professor Ronald Roy (ME).

Previously Chief Scientist of Bell Labs, where she worked for more than 30 years, Professor White (ME, MSE) has a PhD in physics from Harvard University and a broad technical background in materials science and optical-component fabrication. Since 1989 she has held various leadership positions at Bell Labs including director of Integrated Photonics Research, vice president of the Physical Technologies Research Center, and president of the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium. Named a Bell Labs Fellow in 2001 for her work in “developing and applying novel integrated photonic device technologies in advanced optical networks,” she is a member of the Materials Research Society and a fellow of the American Physical Society, the IEEE Photonics Society and the Optical Society of America. She holds five patents and has authored more than 125 publications. 

“We are extremely excited and fortunate to have Alice White join our College of Engineering in a leadership capacity,” said Lutchen. “Dr. White is the consummate interdisciplinary scientist with an extraordinary record of high-impact research and innovation while leading one of the world’s most prestigious corporate research laboratories. These skills translate excitingly for our Mechanical Engineering Department, which has expertise ranging from micro- and nano-technology to materials science to robotics to biomechanics, and to traditional areas such as fluid mechanics. Moreover, almost all these areas intersect with strengths in other departments throughout the College.”

“I was attracted to the position because of the diverse activities in the department, which overlap many of my areas of interest,” said White. “As I’m beginning to get to know the department, I’m very impressed by the strength and passion of its faculty and students. Moreover, I find Dean Lutchen’s vision for the College of Engineering, especially the concept of a ‘Societal Engineer,’ to be inspiring. I look forward to helping the Department of Mechanical Engineering achieve a stature in the academic community commensurate with the quality that I see.”

As Chief Scientist, White developed the organization’s long term research strategy, managed academic research partnerships and oversaw external publications and technology and science awards programs.

One of White’s hallmark achievements at Bell Labs was the invention of a technique called mesotaxy, in which a crystalline metal layer is grown inside a silicon wafer by bombarding it with metal ions. These layers, which had proved difficult to create using more standard growth techniques, might yet find use as buried electrical contacts or mirrors in integrated optoelectronic devices. She received the Maria Goeppert-Mayer award from the American Physical Society for this work. Another of White’s major accomplishments was to serve as a principal investigator of a multimillion-dollar program for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, leading a team of physicists, circuit designers, electrical engineers and materials scientists to demonstrate the integration of electronics and photonics on a single chip produced in a commercial integrated circuit factory. 

White began her career with a focus on low-temperature physics, completing a PhD thesis on electrical transport in nanoscale metal structures. She expanded her research repertoire over the next three decades at Bell Labs, developing expertise in materials science, semiconductor processing, nanofabrication and device integration technologies, and applying that knowledge to innovative solutions for engineering problems in telecommunications. Her recent research focuses on integrated optical circuits, which exploit light to transfer information and are used in fiber optic networks. She and her team found a way to build such circuits in silicon, enabling compact, low-cost chips that could upgrade the performance of everything from cell phones to computers.

Throughout her career, White has complemented her research with efforts to upgrade K-12 science education. These efforts include partnering with the Alcatel-Lucent Foundation to advance that mission by participating in Intel Science Fairs and supporting employee-led FIRST Robotics teams in New Jersey. When her children were in elementary school, she developed a portable demo kit on optics that she made available to her colleagues at Bell Labs. Since 2004, she has been an active trustee of the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, where she chaired the Exhibitions Committee and was a member of the Learning and Teaching Committee. 

White has also strived to increase the pipeline of young women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. For over 20 years, she served on the Bell Labs Graduate Fellowship Program Committee, which gave fellowship support and mentoring to women and underrepresented minorities. This unique program was awarded the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award in 1999. White also served as a board member at New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Murray Center for Women in Technology, presenting its Young Science Achiever Awards.