CLEMSON — John Ballato has been named the inaugural holder of the J. E. Sirrine Endowed Chair in Optical Fiber at Clemson University.

The Sirrine Endowed Chair, which was awarded to be “the nation’s pre-eminent scholar in optical fiber technologies,” is affiliated with the SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Optical Materials.

John Ballato

John Ballato

The SmartState centers were formed in 2002 as one of a series of legislative acts intended to accelerate South Carolina’s knowledge economy transformation. To date, the SmartState program has attracted more than $1.5 billion in non-state investment and has led to the creation of more than 10,000 jobs.

The endowment supporting the Sirrine Endowed Chair has a present market value in excess of $10 million, making it among the largest professorial endowments in the world. The lead private supporter was the J. E. Sirrine Textile Foundation.

A serial entrepreneur and professor of materials science and engineering, Ballato has previously served as Clemson’s vice president for economic development, interim vice president for research and founding director of the Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies (COMSET).

Over his 25 years fabricating novel optical fibers and related technologies, Ballato has published in excess of 300 technical articles, holds 33 U.S. and foreign patents, has given more than  150 invited conference presentations and has co-founded three companies. Among numerous other honors, Ballato is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America (OSA), the International Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE) and the American Ceramic Society (ACerS). He was elected an academician of the World Academy of Ceramics for 2016.

His new position as endowed chair was made possible by the SmartState program. As part of the program, universities raise capital from private donors, businesses and other non-state sources to fund endowments that pay for specialized research professorships. The General Assembly provides dollar-for-dollar state funding through the South Carolina Education Lottery.

“The SmartState program is an indispensable way for the state’s research universities to attract and retain top talent that enables economic development,” said Larry Dooley, Clemson’s interim vice president for research. “The endowed chairs we hire through the program bring some the best researchers in the world to South Carolina. Their groundbreaking work can create new jobs and inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists to reach for the stars.”