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Inventors, Physicists and Entrepreneurs: Commerce Home to Diverse-Range of AANHPI Pioneers

The Department of Commerce is proud to join the Nation in recognizing the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, also known as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Observed annually in May, AANHPI Heritage Month is a time to reflect upon and celebrate the remarkable role of the AANHPI community in our Nation’s history. It also is a time to recognize all the many contributions and achievements within the AAHNPI community that have had a positive impact on our Nation. 

There are so many rich achievements and this month is a celebration of the accomplishments of the AANHPI community. Below are a few leaders who, through their innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship, have made a significant contribution to the Commerce Department’s mission to drive business expansion and economic growth and accelerate American leadership in research, invention, and innovation.


NIST Physicist and Pioneer in Practical New Technologies June Ye

NIST Physicist and Pioneer in Practical New Technologies June Ye

June Ye, a fellow at Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was born in China, is a pioneer in laser science and technology, next-generation atomic clocks, and ultracold quantum gases, all of which serve as foundations for practical new technologies. Ye invented world-leading experimental atomic clocks based on strontium atoms as candidates for the future redefinition of the international standard of time, the SI second. He is a leader in the development of laser frequency combs, ultraprecise “rulers of light,” now used for everything from improving the world’s best atomic clocks to detecting greenhouse gases to identifying planets orbiting distant stars. Ye has also opened new directions and achieved numerous firsts in research on ultracold gases of molecules and chemical reactions at just billionths of a degree above absolute zero, advances that may help scientists develop new materials and new tools for precision measurements and quantum computing.

Ye leads a large and diverse group at JILA, a joint research institute run by NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder. He has been recognized with multiple international scientific awards, including election to the National Academy of Sciences, four Department of Commerce Gold Medals, the Presidential Rank Award, the Meggers Award of the Optical Society of America, the I.I. Rabi Award by the IEEE Frequency Control Symposium, and the American Physical Society’s Norman F. Ramsey Prize and I.I. Rabi Prize. He holds four patents based on unique laser technologies and has published 380 refereed research publications, more than 100 of them in the most prestigious international journals for physics, including Science, Nature, and Physical Review Letters. His work has been cited more than 50,000 times — an exceptionally large number for physicists — and he has presented more than 600 invited talks across the world, including one presented during the international event to redefine the kilogram.


Entrepreneur and Leading U.S. Supplier of Nut Products Jack Huang

Entrepreneur and Leading U.S. Supplier of Nut Products Jack Huang

For over 50 years, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) has provided invaluable tools and assistance to thousands of U.S.-based minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs in becoming successful business and industry leaders. One such person is Jack Huang, President, and CEO of Calway Foods, Inc. headquartered in Santa Clara, California. Since 2008, Calway has exported safe and high-quality nut products, including pecans, walnuts, pistachio, almonds, and other agricultural products, to Hong Kong and China.

Before founding Calway Foods, Mr. Huang held several key positions with several commercial banks, including Cathay Bank, Heritage Bank and First Bank & Trust. His initiation into entrepreneurship began after he was approached by a banking customer who was selling pecans to China but did not speak Mandarin. It was then that Mr. Huang decided to start his firm. With assistance of the Commerce Department’s MBDA Export Center in Sacramento, Calway Foods, Inc. is now recognized as one of the leading suppliers of premium nut products from the United States. This video captures the journey of Mr. Huang and Calway Foods, Inc. 

MBDA Export Centers help minority-owned enterprises (MBEs) succeed as exporters and has assisted hundreds of MBEs grow their business by gaining access to new international markets, trade financing, and export contracts.


Leading Inventor in Accessibility Technology Chieko Asakawa

Leading Inventor in Accessibility Technology Chieko Asakawa

The mission of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is to foster innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth, domestically and abroad, by providing high quality and timely examination of patent and trademark applications, guiding domestic and international intellectual property (IP) policy, and delivering IP information and education worldwide.

Blind since the age of 14, Chieko Asakawa is a leading innovator in accessibility technology, and her inventions have helped change how visually disabled individuals communicate and interact.  She invented the Home Page Reader (HPR), the first practical voice browser to provide effective Internet access for blind and visually impaired computer users. Designed to enable users to surf the Internet and navigate Web pages through a computer’s numeric keypad instead of a mouse, HPR debuted in 1997; by 2003, it was widely used around the world. Asakawa was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2019.  She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers, and holds more than 20 patents.

Commerce Department is committed to supporting the groundbreaking work of inventors, and companies creating the new solutions needed to overcome the pandemic and other global challenges of the future.


Humanitarian and Environmental Inventor Alice Min Soo Chun

Humanitarian and Environmental Inventor Alice Min Soo Chun.

Alice Min Soo Chun is the CEO and Founder of Solight Design and SEEUS95 Inc. Chun invented the first self-attaching transparent N95 mask, the SEEUS95, to reduce the irritation PPE masks can cause wearers and limit their environmental impact. The mask is made from all-natural and environmentally safer materials including bamboo, carbon, silver, silk, silicone and chitosan, a biodegradable and biocompatible polymer created using the hard, outer skeleton of shellfish. The mask was designed with thousands of front-line workers in mind--including first responders and health care workers--as a protective device against the COVID-19 virus and other contagions.

Chun also invented the SolarPuff, a portable solar light providing individualized access to solar energy. Access to light during the night affects 2.6 billion people without reliable electricity. Displaced people are particularly affected, with nighttime attacks a danger in refugee or disaster relief camps, especially for women and children. Chun designed an ultra-lightweight, portable solar lamp that could be distributed to people living in relief camps and carried with them as they change locations.

In 2018, SolarPuff won the USPTO’s Patents for Humanity Award. This program rewards and recognizes the strength that human ingenuity can bring to solving humanity’s most pressing problems. Launched in February 2012, the Patents for Humanity Award is the USPTO’s top honor for patent applicants devising game-changing innovations to address long-standing development challenges. The program provides business incentives for reaching those in need: winners receive an acceleration certificate to expedite select proceedings at the USPTO, as well as public recognition of their work. The awards showcase how inventors with vision like Alice Min Soo Chun are pioneering innovative ways to provide affordable, scalable, and sustainable solutions for the less fortunate. Their success stories will inspire others to harness innovation for human progress.

The AANHPI community is made up of culturally and linguistically - diverse people, representing populations from many countries and islands. Read President Biden’s proclamation to the Nation honoring the history and achievements of Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders.