James J. Coleman was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois, and graduated in 1972. He ultimately received both his Master’s and Ph.D. Degrees from Illinois as well. His Ph.D. advisor was Nick Holonyak, Jr.
After he earned his Ph.D. in 1975, he took a job at Bell Laboratories, where he stayed for three years. He then moved to Anaheim, California to work at Rockwell International to have the opportunity to work with the development of MOCVD. He eventually returned to the University of Illinois and joined the faculty of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
He is a past president of the IEEE Photonics Society and has served as associate editor of IEEE Photonics Technology Letters. He is a fellow of the IEEE, OSA, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was recently elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering. He has published more than 400 papers and holds eight patents. He has received the 2006 Nick Holonyak, Jr. Award and the 2013 John Tyndall Award form OSA.