After receiving the BS in Electrical Engineering and BA in Physics in a 5-year dual-degree program from Bucknell University, Coldren joined Bell Laboratories in 1968. Under Bell Lab’s support he then attended Stanford University and received the MS and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1969 and 1972, respectively. After 13 years in the research area with Bell Laboratories, he joined the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 1984. In 1986 he became a founding faculty member of the Department of Materials. From 1991 into the 2000s he was Director of the DARPA/industry funded multi-campus Optoelectronics Technology Center. From 2009 to 2011, he was interim Dean of the College of Engineering. In 1990, he co-founded Optical Concepts, later acquired as Gore Photonics, to develop novel VCSEL technology, and, in 1998, he co-founded Agility Communications, later acquired by JDSU (now Lumentum), to develop widely-tunable integrated transmitters.
At UCSB, he has worked on multiple-section widely-tunable lasers and efficient vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). He is the inventor of the ‘differing multi-element mirror’ laser, the basis of the Sampled-Grating DBR laser and several other related commercially successful embodiments, and he was first to propose VCSELs with gain elements placed only at the E-field standing wave maxima, key to all commercial VCSELs today. More recently, his group has developed high-performance InP-based photonic integrated circuits as well as high-speed, high-efficiency VCSELs. He has authored or coauthored over a thousand journal and conference papers, eight book chapters, a widely-used textbook, and 63 issued patents. These have resulted in over 41,000 citations and an h-index of 89. Most of the patents are licensed or assigned. He is a Fellow of the IEEE, OSA (Optica), IEE, and the National Academy of Inventors as well as a member of the National Academy of Engineering. His awards include the 2004 John Tyndall, the 2009 Aron Kressel, the 2014 David Sarnoff, the 2015 IPRM, the 2017 Nick Holonyak, Jr., and the 2023 Heinrich Welker Awards.