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B. Jayant Baliga

IEEE Medal of Honor

2014

Household appliances, factory robots, fluorescent lights, cars, trains, televisions and solar panels – all these and more rely on the insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) invented by Professor Jayant Baliga, who won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) Medal of Honour in 2014 for his transformative work.

Prof Baliga was developing semiconductor power devices for General Electric (GE) in the late 1970s when it wanted to create energy-saving variable-frequency motor drives that could operate at different speeds to make electric appliances more efficient. 

He came up with the IGBT, which was crucial to realising the variable-frequency motor drives, by combining features from two other existing devices at the time, specifically metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) and ordinary bipolar power transistors. 

His proposed design for the IGBT was not only bold – then, the two types of transistors were used in completely different ways – but practical, as it could be manufactured relatively easily using one of GE’s MOSFET production lines. After Prof Baliga overcame a few obstacles, the IGBT became widely used across the world.

The IEEE said when awarding Prof Baliga its medal: “Without being at all aware of his role, millions of people around the world are benefiting from the power semiconductors that he pioneered.” Prof Baliga himself estimates that the IGBT has averted over a hundred trillion pounds of carbon dioxide by making products more energy-efficient.

He is currently the Progress Energy Distinguished University Professor at North Carolina State University, and Director of its Power Semiconductor Research Centre. He is developing, with funding from the United States Department of Energy, a bi-directional power controlling switch to make electric products from electric cars to solar panels even more efficient.

Prof Baliga has received the United States National Medal of Technology and Innovation, Global Energy Prize, and other awards. He is also an IEEE Fellow and Member of the United States National Academy of Engineering and the European Academy of Sciences.

“Science education is fundamental to society,” he said. “Science is the reason we have all our modern conveniences, our quality of life, the ability to be mobile with our cars and trains and so forth, and our good health. Without science, mankind would not be where it is today.”