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Alan E. Willner

Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professorial Chair and Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering


  • Doctoral Degree, Electrical Engineering, Columbia University
  • Master's Degree, Electrical Engineering, Columbia University
  • Bachelor's Degree, Physics, Yeshiva University


Alan Willner received the Ph.D. (1988) in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University, as well as a B.A. (1982) in Physics and an Honorary Degree (Honoris Causa, 2012) from Yeshiva University. Prof. Willner was a Postdoctoral Member of the Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories and a Member of Technical Staff at Bellcore. He is currently the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professorial Chair and Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering. Prof. Willner has been: a Visiting Professor at Columbia University, the Univ. College London, and the Weizmann Institute of Science; and a Visiting Scholar at Yeshiva University. He is a Member of the U.S. Army Science Board, was a Member of the Defense Sciences Research Council (a 16-member body that provided reports to the DARPA Director and Office Directors), has served on many scientific advisory boards for small companies, and has advised several venture capital firms. Additionally, Prof. Willner was Founder and CTO of Phaethon Communications, a company whose technology was acquired by Teraxion, that created the ClearSpectrum® dispersion compensator product line which is presently deployed in many commercial 40-Gbit/s systems worldwide.

Prof. Willner's professional activities have included: Co-Chair of the U.S. National Academies Committee on the Optics and Photonics Study, President of The Optical Society (OSA), President of the IEEE Photonics Society (formerly LEOS), Co-Chair of the Science & Engineering Council of the OSA, Vice-President for Technical Affairs of the IEEE Photonics Society, Photonics Division Chair of OSA, Chair of the IEEE TAB Ethics and Member Conduct Committee, General & Program Co-Chair of the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO), Program Co-Chair of the OSA Annual Meeting, General Chair of the IEEE LEOS Annual Meeting, Program Chair of Telecommunications Engineering at SPIE's Photonics West, Chair of the Unclassified Technical Program for IEEE MILCOM, Elected Member of the Board of Governors for the IEEE Photonics Society, General Co-Chair of the IEEE Photonics Society Topical Meeting on Broadband Networks, Steering Committee and Technical Committee Member of the Conference on Optical Fiber Communications (OFC), and Member of the US Advisory Committee for Int'l Commission for Optics (activity of the National Academies, IEEE, OSA and SPIE). Prof. Willner was an invited foreign dignitary representing the sciences for the 2009 Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Stockholm.

Prof. Willner's editorial positions have included: Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE/OSA Journal of Lightwave Technology (JLT), Editor-in-Chief of OSA Optics Letters, Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics, Associate Editor of the IEEE Journal of Selected Areas in Communications Series on Optical Networks (now IEEE/OSA JOCN), Guest Editor of JLT and JSAC for the Joint Special Issue on Multiple-Wavelength Technologies & Networks, and Guest Editor of IEEE J. of Quantum Electronics Focus Issue on High-Capacity Optical Transmission Systems.

Prof. Willner has >1450 publications, including one book, 10 edited books, ~38 U.S. patents, ~45 keynotes/plenaries, ~23 book chapters, >400 refereed journal papers, and >300 invited papers/presentations. His research is in optical technologies, including: communications, signal processing, networks, and subsystems.

Research Summary

• Optical Communication Systems
• Optical Signal Processing
• Optical Switching and Networking
• Optical Devices and Subsystems
• Optical Sensing


  • 2020 Ellis Island Medal of Honor
  • 2019 USC Viterbi School of Engineering Senior Research Award
  • 2017 Columbia University Engineering Alumni Association Thomas Egleston Medal for Distinguished Engineering Achievement
  • 2017 Albert Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award from Marquis' Who’s Who Publications Board
  • 2016 Member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering
  • 2016 U.S. Dept. of Defense Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship (formely Defense Security Science and Engineering)
  • 2016 Honorary Professor, Huazhong Univ. of Science & Technology
  • 2016 Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) J.J. Thomson Medal
  • 2015 National Academy of Inventors Fellow
  • 2014 IEEE Globecom Best Paper Award
  • 2013 IEEE Eric E. Sumner Technical Field Awad
  • 2013 SPIE President's Award
  • 2012 USC Associates Award, University-Wide Creativity in Research
  • 2012 Yeshiva University Honorary Doctorate (Honoris Causa)
  • 2012 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 2012 Yeshiva University Honorary Doctorate
  • 2012 American Association for the Adancement of Science Fellow
  • 2011 IEEE Photonics Society Engineering Achievement Award
  • 2010 Society for Photo-Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) Fellow
  • 2010 Hewlett-Packard Labs Research Innovation Award
  • 2010 The Optical Society (OSA) Paul Forman Engineering Excellence Award
  • 2010 Steven and Kathryn Sample Endowed Chair in Engineering
  • 2010 International Fellow of the U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering
  • 2009 Hewlett-Packard Labs Research Innovation Award
  • 2009 The Optical Society (OSA) Robert Hopkins Leadership Award / New Focus Prize
  • 2008 Hewlett-Packard Labs Research Innovation Award
  • 2005 Northrop/USC Best Electrical Engineering Research Impact Faculty Award
  • 2004 Phi Kappa Phi Academic Honor Society Faculty Inductee
  • 2004 Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) Fellow
  • 2003 IEEE Photonics Society Distinguished Service Award
  • 2003 USC Associates Award University-Wide Excellence in Teaching
  • 2001 Pennwell Publications Eddy Award for Best Contributed Technical Article
  • 2000 The Okawa Foundation Research Award
  • 1999 IEEE Photonics Society Distinguished Lecturer Award
  • 1999 TRW USC School of Engineering Best Teacher Award
  • 1998 Fulbright Foundation Senior Scholar Research and Teaching Fellowship Award
  • 1997 Outstanding Teaching Award, Elec. Eng. Dept., USC Eng. School Teaching Award
  • 1996 Fellow of Optical Society of America (OSA)
  • 1994 Northrop USC Outstanding Junior Engineering Faculty Research Award
  • 1994 NSF Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House
  • 1993 David & Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship in Science & Engineering
  • 1992 NSF National Young Investigator Award
  • 1986 Semiconductor Research Corporation Graduate Student Fellowship
  • 1985 Columbia University Dept. of Electrical Engineering Edwin Howard Armstrong Foundation Memorial Award
  • 1982 Yeshiva University Magna Cum Laude
  • Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering - Systems
  • Physics and Astronomy
  • EEB 538
  • Hughes Aircraft Electrical Engineering Center
  • 3740 McClintock Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089
  • USC Mail Code: 2565
Contact Information
  • (213) 740-4664