Dr. James A. Cooper:
Real Engineers Get their Hands Dirty

Event Date: November 1, 2013
James Cooper
Dr. James A. Cooper


In this talk I will discuss some of the high points of my professional career, describe the incredible changes I have seen, and relate some of the lessons learned during almost fifty years in electrical engineering. From my days as a teen-age computer programmer, I learned the value of attention to detail.  As a PhD student at Purdue, I learned the importance of having new ideas.  Both these concepts were reinforced during ten years as an IC designer and research scientist at Bell Laboratories. At Bell Labs I also learned that real engineers build things and make them work (real engineers get their hands dirty).

As a faculty member at Purdue, I learned the importance of funding, how to get it, and (hopefully) how to keep it. I also developed a philosophy of teaching, based on viewing a subject from the student’s perspective. From the campaign that created the Birck Nanotechnology Center, I learned about the nature and challenges of leadership. And from several key role models, I learned the professional attributes of initiative, focus, and persistence, and the personal values of honesty, transparency, and integrity. From an amalgam of these experiences I developed a certain philosophy, that I will share. Among other things, I will consider the symbiotic relationship between theory and experiment, and argue that neither is complete without the other (real engineers get their hands dirty). I will also share my perspectives on the nature of leadership, the role of strategic planning, and the keys to building a preeminent engineering program. Finally, a disclaimer. My comments represent one person’s view of issues that are nuanced, complex, and multifaceted. I only hope these ruminations will be thought-provoking, and possibly of value to students who are beginning their careers, faculty who are building their careers, and administrators who are building a great university.


James A. Cooper received his Ph.D. from Purdue in 1973. From 1973 to 1983 he was a member of technical staff of Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ, where he was principal designer of AT&T's first CMOS microprocessor and developed a time-of-flight technique for investigating high-field transport in silicon inversion layers. He joined the Purdue faculty in 1983, where he was founding director of the Purdue Optoelectronics Research Center.

Since 1990, he has explored device technology in the wide bandgap semiconductor SiC. His group demonstrated the first monolithic integrated circuits in SiC (1993), the first planar DMOS power transistors (1996), the first lateral DMOSFETs (1997), the first self-aligned short-channel DMOSFETs (2003), and a variety of other devices. He is currently investigating structural and electrostatic disorder at the SiC/SiO2 interface, with applications to SiC power MOSFETs.

Professor Cooper was elected Fellow of the IEEE in 1993. He served as Associate Editor of IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices from 1983 through 1986, guest editor of two special issues of IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, and an advisory board member of IEEE Proceedings from 2004 – 2009. He has co-authored over 250 technical papers and conference presentations, 5 book chapters, 18 US patents, and a new textbook on SiC technology. In 30 years at Purdue, he has graduated 26 PhD and 10 MS thesis students, and was principal investigator on over $40 million in sponsored research grants. From 1996 – 2000, he lead a campaign that culminated in construction of the Birck Nanotechnology Center. He served as founding Co-Director of the Birck Center from 2001 – 2006 and as interim Director from March 2009 to September 2010.