by Nicole Capozziello
Published May 11, 2021
Every day, millions of Americans use fingerprint identification technology on their smartphones. This reality is in large part possible due to the efforts of John Schneider, who has been working to improve fingerprint technology for 40 years.
Recently, Schneider, a three-time alumnus of the Department of Electrical Engineering (BS’80, MS’87, PhD’90), was recognized for his contributions to engineering and society with the Dean’s Award for Achievement, the highest honor presented by the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
Awarded annually to recognize exceptional professional achievements and/or substantial contributions to the practice of engineering or applied sciences, the Dean’s Achievement Award also carries the distinction of the awardee addressing the graduating class.
“John is a consummate professional, leader and scholar whose commitment to SEAS, impact on sensor technology, and legacy of excellence serve as an inspiration to us all,” says Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “John's scientific achievements and years of strong leadership fully represent the ideals of the Dean's Achievement Award.”
“There is no greater honor or professional joy than being recognized by your peers,” says Schneider. “When I look at the past and present of SEAS over the years/decades, it is nothing short of amazing on how far we have come as an engineering school. Looking at what the future holds under the leadership of Dean Lewis, I am truly excited and so glad to be a very small part of it.”
After graduating from UB in 1990, Schneider founded Ultra-Scan Corporation, building on his graduate research focused on developing a better fingerprint technology. For the next 24 years, the company focused on pioneering the use of high frequency ultrasound for fingerprint identification.
In 2012, Ultra-Scan made history when it received FBI certification for a groundbreaking invention: an ultrasonic chip capable of reading fingerprints with up to 100 times the accuracy of other methods. Fingerprint technology had previously consisted of taking photos, which can be unreliable because of dirt or grime often found on the fingers. Ultrasonic technology avoids this issue, getting images of the ridges of the fingerprint at the subdermal layer, below the immediate surface of the skin. The resulting 3D image is more resistant to spoofing than optical sensors, and thus more secure.
The next year, Ultra-Scan was acquired by Qualcomm, a multinational semiconductor and telecommunications company that “invents breakthrough technologies that transform how the world connects, computes, and communicates.” Now, as Qualcomm’s Vice President of Technology, Schneider works on developing the next generation of wearable technology for a variety of health care initiatives.
Looking back at his long journey, Schneider advises students to “think big and be kind.” In addition, he implores them not to give up, whatever their goal may be. “I worked on a single problem for nearly 25 years and, as you can imagine, it was filled with seemingly failure after failure,” Schneider reflects. “Don’t quit. Oftentimes success is just around the corner.”
Today, Schneider’s ultrasonic fingerprint technology is deployed in a variety of smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S21. Schneider holds over 250 patents and has authored numerous papers and books on the topic of fingerprint identification. In 2014, he was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame and was bestowed a lifetime achievement award, which was presented to him at the White House.
Throughout his long career, Schneider has proudly kept his roots in Buffalo. “Home is where the heart is and certainly a big part of my heart resides with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences,” says Schneider. “To receive this award is like a child hearing from his parent ‘well done.’”
Schneider has partnered with UB in a plethora of ways, including working as an adjunct professor, as well as collaborating with faculty and students on research. He’s also a driving force behind the Qualcomm Faculty Awards which recognize faculty from across the country for research that “inspires students and sparks new approaches in key technology areas.” Two UB faculty have received the award, which carries a $75,000 grant: Kwang W. Oh, a professor of electrical engineering, in 2019, and Jun Xia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, in 2020.
Schneider’s previous honors include Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow for leadership in advancing the field of ultrasonic imaging and fingerprint identification (2013); UB Clifford C. Furnas Memorial Award (2013); Western New York’s Inventor of the Year (2009); the Small Business Innovative Research Tibbets award (2007); Frost and Sullivan’s Entrepreneur of the Year (2004); Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year (2001); R&D 100 Award (1996); and the Niagara Frontier Inventor of the Year award (1993).