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Student working in an engineering lab

The University Spark

Tunç ’81 and Lale Doluca further radio communications with an endowed chair

The spark that lit Tunç Doluca’s interest in semiconductor microchips — and set a small fire to a campus lab at 3 a.m. — first kindled at UC Santa Barbara. Tunç established The Doluca Family Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering in honor of his family and his formative UC Santa Barbara experience as a student, teacher, engineer and inventor.

Tunç traveled from Turkey to UC Santa Barbara, where he arrived in 1979 after completing his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University. Even though he was alone on the American Riviera, his leadership qualities emerged. During his second year as a teaching assistant, his professor asked him to design and teach his own analog circuit design lab class for seniors, which was well-attended. As graduation approached, the test-adverse Tunç struck a deal with his advisor: if he could create something the university had never built before, he could graduate without taking his master’s exams. Tunç worked on his new transistor structure deep into the night. One gas he used was highly flammable, and he set a small fire that almost burned down the lab.

“People don’t stay up till 3 a.m. to do something they don’t love,” said Tunç. “UC Santa Barbara gave me the environment to discover a passion for what I was doing.”

After graduation, Tunç accepted his first Silicon Valley job. Based on his circuit design and semiconductor physics education at UC Santa Barbara, his first assignment was to design a protection circuit to guard chips against static electricity damage from handling of products during manufacturing. Tunç went on to receive 11 patents in his career. With the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering close to his heart, Tunç serves as a trustee of the UC Santa Barbara Foundation, mentors students and provides the Doluca chair holder with resources to advance the field.

“I chose to support a chair so the professor would receive funding for his projects in perpetuity,” Tunç said. “This way, the chair will be in a better financial situation to hire graduate students.”

“A lot of key inventions, their sparks come out of universities,” Tunç added. “Companies can’t do this alone. Science research funding is falling in the United States when compared to other countries. One way to help that is for private donors to weigh in with their dollars.”

Professor Mark Rodwell has held the Doluca Family Endowed Chair in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 2011. This year, Tunç and his wife, Lale, doubled their commitment to the chair endowment and made an additional gift to support priority equipment needs for undergraduate laboratories in electrical and computer engineering.

“The chair is a wonderful recognition of UC Santa Barbara’s value and the contributions of my research,” said Rodwell. “I have the freedom to explore new fields without the time pressure of deliveries to a research partner.”

As chair, Professor Rodwell established ComSenTer, a group of 65 student and faculty researches creating wireless communications systems with unprecedented data capacity.

“Whether you’re talking to friends or controlling an autonomous car, there’s untapped potential,” said Rodwell. “This support helps us understand new fields, sharpens our teaching and educates a new generation.”

With Tunç and Lale’s support and Professor Rodwell’s work, generations of students will have the opportunity to chase inspiring ideas deep into the night.