Yablonovitch received his Bachelor of Science in physics from McGill University in 1967. He went on to receive his Master of Arts degree in applied physics from in 1969, and his Doctor of Philosophy from Harvard in 1972. During his post-graduate studies, Yablonovitch worked on nonlinear optics with carbon dioxide lasers.
He and his team were the first to create a 3-dimensional structure that exhibited a full photonic bandgap, which has been named Yablonovite. In addition to pioneering photonic crystals, he was the first to recognize that a strained quantum-well laser has a significantly reduced threshold current compared to its unstrained counterpart. This technique is now applied to the majority of semiconductor lasers fabricated throughout the world.
He then became a professor of applied physics at Harvard in 1974.
In 1979, he joined Exxon research center to work on photovoltaic research for solar energy. While working at Exxon, Yablonovitch derived the 4n2 factor as the theoretical limit for light trapping in photovoltaics.
This is now used worldwide in commercial solar cells. Yablonovitch joined Bell Laboratories in 1984, and became its director of solid-state physics research in 1991.
During his time at Bell Laboratories, Yablonovitch did his pioneering work on photonic crystals.
Yablonovitch became a professor of electrical engineering at University of California, Los Angeles and continued to study and develop photonic crystals and photonic bandgap materials. As of July 2007, he has joined the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department at University of California Berkeley. His other research topics include silicon photonics, quantum computing, telecommunications, and surface plasmon optics.
Yablonovitch has co-founded multiple companies related to his research interests.
In 2000, he co-founded Ethertronics. Ethertronics is a cell phone antenna manufacturer that has, to date, shipped over 1 billion antennas.
In 2001, Yablonovitch co-founded Luxtera, a semiconductor company that makes electro‑optical systems using silicon photonics, manufactured with Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor processes. Luxtera is the first company with a product on the market that monolithically integrates active optics for communication with silicon-based processing.
Yablonovitch co-founded Luminescent in 2002.
Luminescent provided sophisticated mathematical optimization for use in masks for photolithography. Luminescent was acquired by Synopsys in 2012. In 2008, Yablonovitch founded Alta Devices with Harry Atwater.
Alta Devices produces gallium arsenide photovoltaic cells for solar energy.
In 2011, Alta broke the efficiency world record for single junction and dual junction solar cells at 1 sun illumination. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the The Optical Society, and the Australian Psychological Society .
Fellow American Physics Society, Optical Society American (Adolph Lomb medal 1978, R.W. Wood prize 1996). Member Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (senior).