Internet pioneer, A&S alum Rudolph Kriegler identified with students fleeing wars and conflicts

April 5, 2023 by Peter Boisseau - A&S News

As a young physics student, Rudy Kriegler fled the uprising against Russian-backed Soviet troops in Hungary in 1956. With little more than the clothes on his back, he ducked bullets and barbed wire while wading across a border river as he scrambled to freedom.

It was something the pioneering researcher and Arts & Science alum reminded his family about one Thanksgiving on the 60th anniversary of his escape.

“For us, it was about appreciating and remembering what he went through, and the fact that whatever one has in life should be cherished,” says Rudy’s son Paul Kriegler, who along with his brother Andrew and mother Elisabeth have established the Rudolph J. Kriegler Scholars at Risk Award.

Elisabeth Kriegler says her husband — who passed away in 2022 — was always grateful for the kind family that took him in when he arrived in Canada and the student assistance and opportunities he enjoyed here.

“To be able to help someone else, other young future scholars, would really please him. He would be smiling up there,” she says.

Rudolph Kriegler.
Rudolph Kriegler was grateful for the opportunities he found in Canada. Photo courtesy of the Kriegler family.

Although the award is open to everyone, the Krieglers are focused on students fleeing the war in Ukraine because Rudy would have appreciated the similarities in circumstances he faced in Hungary, says Andrew Kriegler.

“He was very grateful to Canada for the opportunities he was given, and this is something that is important to repay, and to give somebody else that chance,” he says.

“If other people hadn't helped him, then he wouldn't have been able to do what he did. It seemed quite fitting that we did this award, because we were particularly struck by the terrible events in Ukraine.”

The inaugural Rudolph J. Kriegler Scholars at Risk Awards were made in February, supporting three Ukrainian scholars studying at U of T.

Rudy earned a master’s degree in 1958 and a PhD in physics from U of T in 1966. His remarkable career included groundbreaking research in high-speed optical communications, the technology that underpinned the development of the internet.

During three decades with Bell-Northern Research and Nortel, he helped create Photonics Research Ontario and the Solid State Optoelectronics Consortium of Canada. He also chaired the Canadian Institute of Telecommunications Research.

He was named a Nortel Fellow Emeritus for his scientific, managerial and business contributions and was honoured by the Electrochemical Society with the Thomas D. Callinan Award for his work on silicon semiconductors in the 1960s and ’70s.

He lobbied tirelessly for decades to enhance Canada's competitive edge in the high technology sector and was awarded the Order of Canada in April of 2008 in recognition of his contributions.

“The research he did was also being pretty hotly pursued by others, like the Americans, Germans and Japanese, and I think he saw that it was really important that in Canada, the government, academia and industry work together on the state of affairs,” says Andrew.

Although his passion was in physics, Rudy was not always stuck in a lab. An active person with far-ranging interests, he was an avid downhill skier who was renowned for hitting the slopes as often as he could.

Perhaps less well known than his work in physics was his scholarly interest in religion and theology, which he approached from a scientific point of view.

He published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal and was working on a second article before he passed away, says Andrew.

“I think he was taking an analytical approach to some of the bigger questions that we all face.”

The family hopes their award will offer students who have faced risks and great challenges the support to continue to pursue important questions, scholarship and research for them and the world at large.