Sivalingam Sivananthan, professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been named a White House Champion of Change. He was presented with the honor at a ceremony this morning (May 29, 2013) at the White House.
The honor recognizes immigrant innovators and entrepreneurs—”the best and brightest from around the world who are helping create American jobs, grow the economy and make our nation competitive in the world,” the White House said in a press release.
Sivananthan’s work with a semiconductor material, mercury cadmium telluride or MCT, is at the heart of night vision technology and made the raid that took down Osama Bin Laden on a moonless night possible. Developing “technology that protects our protectors” has given him the opportunity to give back to his adopted country, said Sivananthan.
Immigrants have long made America more prosperous and innovative, and the Champions we are celebrating today represent very best in leadership, entrepreneurship, and public service,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. “We are proud to recognize these leaders who work every day to grow our economy, advance science and technology, and support their home communities.”
Sivananthan is the founder of the high-tech, Bell-Labs-styled incubator, Sivananthan Laboratories, Inc. in Bolingbrook, Ill. The Laboratories’ focus is on infared technology, radiation detection, materials research and biosensors.
Because, at its most fundamental, MCT technology is about transforming light into electricity, Sivananthan is also leading an effort to develop next-generation solar power. To that end, he helped found InSPIRE (the non-profit Institute for Solar Photovoltaic Innovation, Research, and Edu-training), whose mission is training Illinois’s workforce and exciting Illinois undergraduate and high school students to create a renewable energy and solar eco-system in Illinois.
In Sivananthan Laboratories Sivananthan is promoting economic growth by fostering cutting-edge, fundamental research and development that bridges the gap between academia and industry.
Sivananthan credits much of his success to the support he received from UIC from his days as a student to his continuing engagement on the faculty.
“UIC is a community of individuals that has treated me with respect for who I am,” he said.
“I have been blessed with having talented people around me,” said Sivananthan. “I can take credit only for hiring them. Our success has been and always will be a product of team work.”
Immigrants make America more prosperous and entrepreneurial. Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business in the United States as the native-born, and more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies – from GE and Ford to Google and Yahoo! – were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants, according to the White House.
Dr Sivananthan was born in Madduvil South, Chavakachcheri, to teacher parents – his father was from Valvettithurai and was a respected Tamil scholar who taught in schools in Vanni and Meesalai, and his mother, a teacher of religion and science – and had his elementary schooling at Saraswathi Maha Vidyalaya, and attended middle school at Drieberg College.
Sivananthan entered University of Peradeniya Science faculty from his high school, Jaffna Hindu College, and was a lecturer at the University of Batticaloa for a year after graduating in Physics. He came to the University of Illinois (UIC) in 1982 to do postgraduate work.