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Alum’s dream leads to successful company, generosity

Thompson Lin studio shot.

MU Engineering alumnus Thompson Lin is president, CEO and chairman of Applied Optoelectronics, Inc. (AOI) based in Sugar Land, Texas, a company he founded in 1997.

Thompson Lin has a dream, and he has been sprinting toward its realization since he was a student, first earning a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from National Tsing Hua University, and then a master’s and a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering at MU in 1990 and 1993, respectively. Lin is president, CEO and chairman of Applied Optoelectronics, Inc. (AOI) based in Sugar Land, Texas, a company he founded in 1997.

AOI designs, develops and manufactures optical devices, components and subsystems; laser transmitters; and fiber optic transceivers. It’s a sort of one-stop shop for the integrated components used in fiber optic communications, data and telecommunications, access networks and systems supporting cable television.

Located near Houston, the home office houses the company’s semiconductor component lab. An AOI operations branch in Ningbo, China, produces surface-mount technology (SMT) printed circuit boards, and the company’s Taiwan division designs and manufactures transceivers that feature AOI lasers.

That Lin has managed to set in motion such a large, successful enterprise in a mere 20 years speaks to his energy, commitment and his ability to attract investors. Standing at the head of such a venture would be the fulfillment of a dream for many, but Lin’s ultimate dream is to contribute in a meaningful way to the field of biosensors.

“It’s been a lot of effort, but I am still young and can work hard. I enjoy what I do and every year I am getting closer to my dream,” he said.

Immediately after leaving MU, Lin became a research associate professor at the Applied Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center, a joint program between the University of Houston and NASA initiated to discover new ways to utilize and commercialize NASA’s technologies. Lin launched AOI based on research that he conducted there, and he hasn’t yet completely tapped that source of innovation.

“I believe that the research conducted at the University of Houston could be of use in some additional applications,” he said.

“I’d like to come up with an AOI watch. With a few lasers, you could measure glucose — and other things,” he said of potential biosensing applications. “Biosensors can change and improve human lives.”

In recent conversations with MU Engineering Dean Elizabeth Loboa, she shared a campus plan with Lin to establish a Translational Precision Medicine Complex on the MU campus. The facility is front and center in Loboa’s goal to make biomedical innovation one of three primary focus areas for the College over the next few years. Lin found the idea intriguing and made a generous gift to the College to make a signature hire to lead the effort.

“It’s a pretty ambitious plan but it’s great if we can make something happen,” Lin said. “I want to move fast; to do something quickly. It’s very important to hire a leader for this important new area. “A lot of people can benefit [from this research focus].”

Loboa could not agree more.

“I am thrilled that Dr. Lin’s generous gift targets a signature hire in an area we have identified as one of our greatest strengths on this campus, and that he is including the MU College of Engineering in his vision for the future of AOI,” Loboa said. “It is a mutually beneficial relationship that I am every bit as eager to cultivate.

“Emerging biosensing technologies hold great promise to improve lives of people around the world. We are excited to partner with Dr. Lin to move new technologies forward and work with him to realize his dream while further expanding our approaches to solving global challenges in healthcare.”

Lin said there are plans to hold a symposium on the MU campus sometime later in the year to examine other possibilities and acquire even further support for the initiative. He sees great potential in working with MU, both through research collaborations and in other areas that will have a positive impact on his company’s future.

“It will also provide a funnel of great candidates [to come to work] for AOI,” he said.

“I had a great time at MU — lots of friends and great professors and I learned a lot. I hope my contribution can help others. What I am doing right now, even today, is a continuation of my Ph.D. thesis,” Lin said.