Born in Baramati, India, Chandra Kumar Naranbhai Patel, commonly known as C.K.N Patel is a pioneer in the electrical engineering field. Noted for his groundbreaking work with lasers, Dr. Patel’s interest in engineering can be traced back to his childhood. Growing up, science was prevalent in the Patel household as Dr. Patel’s father was a civil engineer and his older brother was a doctor. This familial aptitude for the sciences was clearly inherited as Patel recalls that “science and math were the easiest subjects. Everything else was hard.” He followed this inclination towards the sciences throughout his schooling, and pursued an undergraduate degree in Telecommunications Engineering, notably choosing the practical discipline over the university’s less strenuous and more theoretically-grounded Physics program.
Following his graduation from the College of Engineering, Pune, Patel’s ambition, evident in his initial admittance to program from hundreds of thousands of applicants, took him to Stanford University in the United States. At Stanford, Dr. Patel completed an M.S. and PhD, writing his thesis solid-state electronics. Though he credits his time at Stanford as the beginning of his scientific career, Patel also states that it is there that his self-starter attitude was cultivated.
From Stanford, Patel started working with Bell Laboratories in a directorial capacity as he headed the Research, Materials Science, Engineering and Academic Affairs Division. This position afforded him a significant degree of freedom, enabling him to pursue his interest in lasers, a new invention at the time that showed ample room for innovation.
Over the next 30 years, Patel forged his legacy, developing the carbon dioxide laser and making a number of discoveries that showed that the use of lasers could “measure trace gases in difficult environments”. This work has secured Dr. Patel’s repute in the field as his work has been applied to homeland defense systems, healthcare, biopharmacy, and aircraft protection. The transplantation of Dr. Patel’s innovations into purposes that serve the public good is fitting, perhaps, as he was finally able to engage in civil service—a longstanding goal of his that was driven by his desire to be unique from his family members.
These contributions have been widely recognized by the American public as Dr. Patel was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1996 by President Bill Clinton “[f]or his fundamental contributions to quantum electronics and invention of the carbon dioxide laser, which have had significant impact on industrial, scientific, medical, and defense applications.”
Since his days with Bell Laboratories, Patel has moved on to educational roles, serving as the University of California, Los Angeles’ Vice Chancellor of Research and as a Physics professor at the same institution. In these capacities, he has aimed to propone the same spirit of independence, fearlessness, and integrity that was instilled in him by his thesis advisor, Dean Watkins, in his Stanford days.
Recognition of Dr. Patel’s expertise is not limited to just academic domains, however, as he has also served on advisory boards for the Aerospace Corporation, AT&T Foundation, Newport Corporation, California Microdevices Corporation, and Accuwave Corporation.
Now in his later years, Dr. C.K.N. Patel resides in Los Angeles, California and is a member of various science societies, namely the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Physical Society, the IEEE, the Optical Society of America, the Laser Institute of America, and the American Society of Laser Medicine. Although his inventing days may be over, it is assured that Dr. Patel’s contributions to the electrical engineering field have not only secured his legacy, but also improved the general welfare of society as well.
“C. Kumar N. Patel” American Institute of Physics. Web. <https://history.aip.org/acap/biographies/bio.jsp?patelc>.
“C. Kumar N. Patel: Executive Profile & Bibliography.” Bloomberg. Web. <https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=611045&capId=741136>.
Frederik Nebeker. “Oral-History: Kumar Patel.” Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Jan 15, 2015. Web. <http://ethw.org/Oral-History:Kumar_Patel>.
“The President’s National Medal of Science: Recipient Details” National Science Foundation. 1996. Web. <https://www.nsf.gov/od/nms/recip_details.jsp?recip_id=270>.