Two engineers at UCSB are building something special – a career.

UCSB electrical and computer engineering professor and California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) Director Evelyn Hu, and UCSB materials/physics professor and Nobel Laureate Alan Heeger were elected to the National Academy of Engineering on Feb. 15. Election to the academy is one of the highest distinctions given to professional engineers. With the addition of Heeger and Hu, 18 UCSB faculty members are now NAE members.

The NAE is part of a congressional charter that began with the National Academy of Sciences in 1863. The NAE is charged with providing guidance to the national engineering community and helping to allocate resources for education and research within the discipline.

“I think the honor of being elected to the national academy means the recipient has a greater responsibility and the chance to influence scientific and engineering policy,” Hu said. “To help play a role in assessing the important directions that society as a whole should invest its resources in with regard to engineering.”

Heeger, who was also elected to the National Academy of Sciences last year, considers the greatest honor to be recognition by other researchers.

“It’s a great honor and it’s especially nice to be recognized by your own colleagues – your peers in scientific and engineering disciplines,” he said. “It’s not some abstraction from far away. It’s people you know.”

Heeger received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2000 for the invention of conducting polymers – plastics that conduct electricity. He attributes his election to the NAE, in part, to this research.

“The national academy, of course, is supposed to recognize a scientific accomplishment and it’s supposed to be a group of people who have demonstrated important scientific accomplishments in each area,” he said.

Hu attributes her election to a long history of successful collaborations and quality research.

“For some people it may be true that there is a magical experiment or there is this moment of realization of a finding that’s so profound and long reaching that it just opens up their career,” Hu said. “But I would suspect that for most people, and certainly for me, it’s just building things up little by little continuously over a long period of time: a combination of research and building up infrastructure and working with colleagues – building on a solid foundation.”

Hu says that she also sees her election as a tribute to the people she has worked with.

“I strongly believe that my election to the academy and any success I have had has been a combination of good fortune and also the tremendous support of all the people I’ve worked with throughout my career,” she said.

Heeger said that he looks forward to assuming his duties with the NAE.

“I’m still learning the ropes,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what opportunities there are.”