PARC's Chua recalls scientific impact of laser physicist Thornton
Heather Miller, a PARC spokeswoman said, "Chris worked with Dr. Thornton closely in inventing and developing a new laser diode architecture that is still being used by leading manufacturers. Robert and he remained in close contact even after he left PARC. Chris considered Dr. Thornton his mentor and a good friend."
Chua is the technical principal investigator for the team developing semiconductor optical emitters -- light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and lasers. He is currently focusing on epitaxy, design, and fabrication of nitride-based visible and ultra-violet LEDs and laser diodes.
"Dr. Thornton hired me as a post-doc in 1995 after I read a posting at a scientific conference," recalls Chua. "I remember he was so passionate about science and technology and developing new things." Chua said Thornton's kitchen in a $2 million house in Los Altos was outfitted as a science lab.
Ironically, one of the reasons Thornton is relatively unknown is because even his closest associates most remember his personality as much as his scientific achievements.
Dr. Deborah Jackson, Program Manager and Microelectronics/Optics ERC Cluster Leader with the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, VA, wrote Thornton's obituary for Physics Today. She stated: "Those who knew him personally will remember Thornton as one of the few authentic entrepreneurs who successfully combined scientific and technical talent with the courage to take on greater than normal financial risks while maintaining his integrity and caring for his son. He will also be remembered for his quick wit and dry sense of humor and an especially wicked and sly laugh to go along with it."
Paula Perron, administrator of the Applied Physics Department at Stanford, recalled, "He always came in to say hi to me when he was on the Stanford campus, and I truly enjoyed knowing him during his PhD years and after."
LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE is the most recent of a series of exhibitions which began at The Tech in 1998 to highlight the contributions of African-Americans in Silicon Valley and the broader development of technology, curated by John William Templeton, former editor of the San Jose Business Journal.
Keisha Evans, co-owner of Pan African City Alive in Sunnyvale, where Thornton was a long-time customer, has a treasured momento from Thornton, one of his patents framed.
Pan African City Alive will host a teacher training workshop on Thursday, June 14 I Belong: Culturally Responsive Interventions for Math, Science Instruction designed to show teachers how to spark the interest in science and math that Thornton displayed early on.
Thornton was a National Achievement Scholarship winner from Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C. before earning a bachelor of science in engineering and applied science from Caltech in 1977. At Stanford, he gained a masters and doctorate in applied physics while winning the Bell Telephone Laboratories Cooperative Research Fellowship.
After leaving PARC in 1999, Thornton was director of photonic technology at Maxtek Components and later vice president of technology and chief technical officer for Siros Technologies.
During his career, he authored 110 scholarly publications.
ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage instructional network is building highly-effective content designed to encourage and empower students to follow in the footsteps of Thornton and other African-American technology standouts such as Jerry Lawson, subject of its documentary A Great Day in Gaming: From Queens to Silicon Valley: The Gerald A. Lawson Story, which premiered at The Tech last June.
LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE will be at the heart of an instructional unit for the coming school year on the electro-magnetic spectrum.
For more information about the exhibition and professional development, call 415-240-3537.