Electrical and computer engineering Professor Herbert Kroemer, one of UCSB’s three Nobel laureates, was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, the highest honor awarded by the German government, on Oct. 20.

Kroemer is best known for his invention of heterostructured semiconductors, which are used in all computers. He has also pioneered many advances in the field.

“I’ve always, from the beginning, been interested in things that were several generations ahead of what people could do,” he said. “Small steps didn’t really interest me. I was interested in big steps.”

The award is given to a German citizen responsible for an outstanding body of work in his or her respective field. German ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger presented the prize in a ceremony, which took place in Los Angeles at Aurora Village, a center for European-American cultural exchanges.

“The whole year had been one tremendous experience,” Kroemer said. “It changes your life.”

When Kroemer and his colleagues started work on semiconductors, many people were skeptical of their efforts.

“Some people thought we were crazy. Some people thought, maybe they’re not crazy, but there’s no technology and that absolutely was true,” he said. “And some people felt it would be totally pointless to develop the technology because it would never be useful.”

Semiconductors are not merely useful. They lie at the heart of nearly every device associated with the information age. This sort of success comes with valuable lessons, Kroemer said.

“I am very firmly convinced fundamentally new technology and fundamentally new physics have their importance in the form of applications that get created by them,” he said. “The real important phenomenon is that most of today’s technology grew out of technology for which there were no applications at the time.”

– Josh Braun