An Optical Frequency Comb Anyone Can See

30. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

I can’t say it any better than the press release did: “Finally, an optical frequency comb that visibly lives up to its name.”

Researchers in the United States and Germany have collaborated on a 10-GHz frequency comb with spectral coverage from about 470 to 1130 nm. Unlike other combs, a simple grating spectrometer can spatially separate this comb’s “teeth” so that they are visible with the human eye.

OSA Fellow Scott A. Diddams of the U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), working with Albrecht Bartels of the University of Konstanz (Germany) and Dirk Heinecke of Konstanz and NIST, published their work in the October 30 issue of Science.

The authors say that the comb’s modes could serve as precise frequency markers for calibration of astronomical spectrographs and for many other spectroscopic uses. As has been noted in this blog in the past, frequency-comb spectroscopy is being explored as an important tool for detecting planets orbiting stars other than the Sun.

Incidentally, this Science article was published on the 68th birthday of OSA Honorary Member Theodor Hänsch, who shared part of the 2005 Nobel Prize in physics with OSA Honorary Member (and longtime NIST scientist) John L. “Jan” Hall for their pioneering work on – you guessed it – frequency combs.

Above: Photographs of four different regions of the new optical frequency comb. The light is filtered through a grating spectrometer and photographed with a digital camera through a microscope. Each visible line or "tooth" is an individual frequency in the comb, which spans the visible spectrum from red to blue. More than 1,500 such photos would need to be lined up to show the entire comb. (Photo credit: S. Diddams/NIST)

2009-10 October

For “Advocate for Optics” Nominations, Time Is Running Out

30. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

OSA members: You have until October 31 to nominate a public official for OSA’s annual “Advocate for Optics” recognition program. That means you have less than two days to take action.

Past honorees of this program have come from both of the U.S. major political parties – two Democrats and two Republicans. Two other honorees were from Belgium. So your favorite public official doesn’t have to be American – just someone who has a record of being an enthusiastic supporter of optics and photonics research, and science and technology in general.

The nomination involves sending us an e-mail – no big packages of paperwork needed. For the criteria, list of past winners, evaluation process and the address for submissions, please visit this page on the OSA Web site:

2009-10 October

LED Production, Direct Solar Fuels Garner First-Round ARPA-E Funding

27. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

New manufacturing processes for low-cost LEDs and research into generating biofuels from sunlight are among the projects that received funding in the first round of grants from the new U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The 37 recipients are splitting $151 million out of the $400 million given to ARPA-E under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also called the “stimulus bill”). The America COMPETES Act of 2007 set up ARPA-E to develop transformational energy technologies in the mold of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which brought us the Internet.

Momentive Performance Materials of Strongsville, Ohio (U.S.A.), teamed up with two other small businesses on a $4.5 million project that, to quote ARPA-E, “will develop a high-pressure ammonothermal process to produce affordable, high-quality, single-crystal GaN substrates at high crystal growth rates. This development can lead to light emitting diodes (LEDs) at costs equal to current low-cost lighting options, such as fluorescent lighting.”

Pennsylvania State University (U.S.A.) and a business partner are getting $1.9 million in ARPA-E funds to investigate direct solar fuels. ARPA-E describes their research objective as “catalyst-coated titanium dioxide nanotube membranes to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into methane and other hydrocarbon fuels.” Four other funding recipients are working on other aspects of direct-solar-fuel technology.

U.S. Energy Secretary (and OSA Honorary Member) Steven Chu will announced more ARPA-E grant winners later this fall. For more information on all the first-round recipients, visit the ARPA-E Web site.

2009-10 October , ,

Galilean Nights and Frequency Combs

22. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

Did you buy a Galileoscope at the recent Frontiers in Optics (FiO) meeting? If you did – or if you have access to any small telescope – bring it outdoors over the next few nights!

iya logoThe International Year of Astronomy (IYA), which already brought us “100 Hours of [Continuous] Astronomy” this past spring and other programs advocating dark-skies awareness and women in science, is organizing “Galilean Nights” events around the world October 22 through October 24.

The idea behind this IYA project is to give as many people as possible the chance to experience their own “Galileo moment” when they look at the sky through a telescope for the first time. Think about how amazing the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus and the “planets” on either side of Saturn (he didn’t recognize them as rings) must have looked to someone who hadn’t known of their existence!

According to the International Astronomical Union, Galilean Nights events are happening in more than 70 countries. So, if you have that telescope handy, set it out in a public area and show off the heavens (Jupiter is particularly good for evening viewing). If the weather is cloudy in your terrestrial neighborhood, check out one of the participating Web sites for remote observing.

In other astrophysical news, the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S.A.) have received $495,000 from the U.S. National Science Foundation to search for extrasolar planets using the frequency-comb technique. The astronomers want to extend the technique into the infrared for observations of M stars – small, red, cool, long-lived stars that might have had plenty of time to form planetary systems.

Frequency combs use ultrafast lasers to make a high-precision “ruler” spectrum against which astronomers can measure the tiny Doppler shift in a star’s spectrum caused by one or more orbiting planets. OPN managing editor Christina Folz described the technique in this April 2008 blog post.

Of course, frequency combs sprang from the research conducted by OSA Honorary Members John “Jan” Hall and Theodore Hänsch, who shared half of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. Hall did his pioneering studies at JILA, a research institute jointly run by the University of Colorado and NIST. (The other half of the 2005 Nobel Prize went to OSA Honorary Member Roy Glauber.)

2009-10 October ,

FiO/LS Wrapup: Last Day Brings Stunning Images

19. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

Imagine seeing the real-time beating heart of an embryo, complete with red cells flowing through the blood vessels. That’s the kind of detail that Texas (U.S.A.) researchers are getting with optical coherence tomography (OCT).

Granted, the team used mouse embryos, but the scientists hope that their work will someday lead to a better understanding of humans’ congenital cardiovascular abnormalities, which occur in 1 percent of live births.

Kirill Larin of the University of Houston (UH), working with colleagues from UH and Baylor College of Medicine, showed his audience stunning 48-frames-per-second images of mouse embryos from 7.5 to 10.5 days old. At 7.5 days, the heart is not yet formed, although a small spot on the embryo is “beating” rhythmically. At 8.5 days, a tube-shaped structure is beating within the thoracic cavity. At 9.5 days, the embryo clearly has a four-chambered heart whose beat has increased to a normal embryonic speed.

The Texas group has been studying this type of imaging at the red-blood-cell level for about a year and has published in several journals including Optics Letters (Larina et al., Vol. 34, p. 986 [2009]).

Larin’s presentation was one of a number of interesting talks last Thursday, the final day of the Frontiers in Optics/Laser Science (FiO/LS) conference in San Jose, Calif., U.S.A. I would like to wrap up this blog’s coverage of FiO with notes on several other noteworthy sessions that I simply did not have time to write about while the meeting was still going on.


Acetylene: Not just for welding

Robert W. Field of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (U.S.A.), who gave the American Physical Society’s Arthur L. Schawlow Prize lecture, called acetylene his favorite molecule. He’s been studying it for 30 years – longer, he said, than he’s known his wife.

Acetylene is a simple hydrocarbon with the chemical formula HC2H, and I’d always thought of it as a fuel for welding and metal cutting (thanks to my late father, who was a welder by trade). But Wood, a physical chemist, has used the tiny molecule as the subject of multiple-resonance laser spectroscopy probing the fundamental mechanisms of bond-breaking and isomerization.

Wood laced his talk with humor, calling his spectroscopy experiments “laser and microwave tricks to thwart the evil that lurks in the hearts of small molecules.”


MWOSA: Testing implicit assumptions


At a teatime gathering of Minorities and Women in OSA (MWOSA), featured speaker Linda M. Garverick, a leadership consultant based in Cleveland, Ohio (U.S.A.), challenged her audience to assess the hidden biases that everyone carries.

“We make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do between pairs of ideas that are unfamiliar to us,” she cautioned. When role models don’t exist, unconscious bias is perpetuated to the next generation. Self-reflection is the key to becoming conscious of our biases and motivations.

Garverick led a lively discussion about diversity in gender, race and ethnicity in the academic community. Some of the ideas in her talk came from Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking as well as The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization by Peter Senge et al.

She suggested some techniques for “powerful advocacy” that are also outlined in Senge’s book. Examples: Make your thinking and reasoning explicit; listen, stay open and encourage other people to express different perspectives; and try not to get defensive when your ideas are questioned.


Biophysics and virtual photonics

Eric Mazur and his colleagues at Harvard University (U.S.A.) have been performing nano-neurosurgery on C. elegans, a nematode whose genome has been fully sequenced. “They’re very easy to handle, even for a physicist,” Mazur quipped. These tiny worms have 302 neurons, and all of them are wired exactly the same way, which isn’t true of most other animals. By snipping one or two neurons at a time with a femtosecond laser and then watching to see whether the worm can still detect the presence of substances it dislikes, scientists can infer the role of each neuron in the worm’s behavior.

Transport-based models of radiative, photo thermal and photochemical interactions between light and living tissues are necessary in nearly all biomedical optics applications. However, said Vasan Venugopalan of the University of California at Irvine (U.S.A.), the biomedical community lacks ready access to advanced computational tools for modeling these light interactions with cells and tissues.

Venugopalan and colleagues are developing an open-source framework called the Virtual Tissue Simulator, or VTS, which will solve, analyze and visualize biophysical models. Scientists with more experience in optics than computer science would be able to plug in problem-specific VTS “application toolkits” to simulate fiber-optic probes, small-animal imaging, phototherapy and other experiments. The team is looking for both toolkit developers and bio-optical experimentalists; check out its Web site at


The third dimension

One of the special symposia at this year’s FiO/LS was “The Future of 3-D Display: The Marketplace and the Technology.” But in many ways, the future is already here, said symposium keynoter Rod Archer, engineering vice president of RealD Inc. (Beverly Hills, Calif., U.S.A.).

If you’ve purchased a high-def TV in the last year or so, chances are it’s already 3D-capable, even if you’re not yet receiving any 3D programming. By 2012, millions of TV sets will have 3D, according to Archer, and the first 3D Xbox game debuted just a few weeks ago. FiO blogger Adam Zysk also attended Archer’s talk and covered some of the technology.

For 3D to really take off, companies need to develop eyegear-free stereo viewing, and RealD is among the companies working on that. Headgear-free 3D will probably first appear on small screens for personal use, such as cell phones and handheld gaming devices – applications that Archer called the “brass ring” for the technology.


Other coverage

I’ve mentioned Adam Zysk’s blog, but Bob Schoonover and Shalin Mehta also covered the conference and provided novel insights. Links to all three blogs remain up on FiO’s online media page.

Next year, FiO/LS moves back to Rochester, N.Y. (U.S.A.) during the last week of October 2010. See you there!

2009-10 October

X-Ray Lasers, Adaptive Optics and Other Topics from FiO

15. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

Wow, there are so many exciting sessions here at Frontiers in Optics/Laser Science XXV (FiO/LS), it’s hard to select the ones to write about! This won’t be the last OPN blog post on the subject, I can assure you.

Wednesday night we had three parallel sessions of postdeadline papers, with some interesting findings.

Federico Furch and his colleagues at Colorado State University (U.S.A.) reported their demonstration of the first all-diode-pumped soft-X-ray laser. Although numerous applications demand compact soft-X-ray sources, previous “tabletop” X-ray lasers have been pumped by flash lamps, so their repetition rates have been limited to 10 Hz or thereabouts.

Furch’s team found that cryogenically cooled Yb:YAG made a good gain material for the laser system’s two amplifiers. The system achieved lasing at the 18.9-nm line of nickel-like molybdenum by focusing three collinear pulses at grazing incidence onto a solid Mo target. Other specs: 8.5-ps pulses with 1 J of energy at 10 Hz. The researchers noted that hitting the target with more than 700 mJ was required to get the laser line. Next on their platter: significantly increasing the energy and repetition rate of the diode-pumped system, and trying to get the output into the 13- to 14-nm range by replacing the Mo target with one of cadmium or silver.

Also at the postdeadline session, it was a pleasure to hear a talk by Sheng Liu of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (U.S.A.), an OSA student chapter leader who participated in my September OPN cover story on ethical careers. Liu and his collaborators, who include OSA Past President Anthony M. Johnson, are studying the electron dynamics inside quantum cascade lasers (QCLs), which are important in such applications as trace gas detection in the atmosphere. They set up a pump probe to generate femtosecond pulses at 3 to 12 mm and found that the signal transmission depends on whether the pulses’ polarization matches the TM mode of the QCL.

Ronald Holzlöhner and his colleagues at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, Germany, reported experimental results that were even better than the figure that got printed in the postdeadline-paper book. ESO has been working on laser-guide-star (LGS) adaptive-optics (AO) systems to give their ground-based telescopes better “seeing” by decreasing blur caused by atmospheric turbulence. LGS systems require a light source resonant with the D2 line of sodium at 589 nm, which is the familiar “yellow glow” of sodium; narrow linewidth; 20 or 30 W of power in a stable beam; and rugged, reliable turnkey operation (because astrophysicists aren’t necessary laser tinkerers). Dye lasers were first used for LGS AO, but they aren’t the easiest to operate.

The ESO team built a Raman fiber amplifier using the observatory’s proprietary technology for suppressing stimulated Brillouin scattering. The amplifier has less than 1.5 MHz bandwidth, which is important because narrow bandwidth is necessary for efficiently exciting sodium atoms high in the atmosphere. After frequency doubling in an external cavity, the system put out 28 W with a conversion efficiency of 82 percent. (The original paper said 26.5 W, but the team got a better result after submitting the paper.) The output is more than sufficient for LGS projects, and the technology is being transferred to industry.

Many of Wednesday’s AO presentations, both in FiO and in the concurrent topical meeting on AO, focused on ophthalmic applications of AO, especially in imaging of the living retina.

Thursday wraps up FiO/LS and the Fall Optics & Photonics Congress topical meetings with a full slate of sessions lasting until dinnertime. Back to the conference now....

2009-10 October

High Noon at the FiO Racetrack

14. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

The contestants were anxiously testing their wheels and transmissions. The crowd was milling about. And the race was on!

Just as the Tuesday morning Frontiers in Optics (FiO) sessions wrapped up, the final round of the first-ever OSA Student Chapter International Solar Car Race hit the ballroom floor in the exhibit hall. (As previously noted, northern California was getting hit with a rare typhoon remnant, so it was a good thing the track was indoors.)

OPN contributing editor François Busque of Montréal, Canada, reminded everyone that the 28-cm rule was still in effect: the distance between the light source and the solar cells on the small plastic cars had to be 28 cm. Each competitor would have three rounds in the finals. OSA staff member KiKi L’Italien and OPN contributor Carlos Lopez-Mariscal (National Institute of Science and Technology, U.S.A.) did the recordkeeping and timekeeping.

Student chapters had received identical car kits in the weeks before FiO, but they were encouraged to modify the basic design. The nine entries demonstrated plenty of creativity, from three-wheeled roadsters to the University of Tennessee’s “five-wheel tractor trailer concept,” to use Busque’s words.

That Tennessee vehicle, first off the starting line in the first round, tipped over when its “driver” (who was also pushing the light source to keep it above the car) gave it a course correction. The second entry, from an association of Colombian student chapters, set a straight and true course and an 8.22-s mark that other teams would have to beat.

The crowd cheered as some contestants “spun donuts” and one even “did wheelies” like a drag racer. When the Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal’s driver, Jean-Simon Corbeil, stepped forward with the Fresnel-lens-equipped winner of Sunday’s aesthetics award, hopes ran high in the audience that the concentrator would make the car zip along. BUT … the car just sat there on the sideline with its motor spinning. Busque noted that the car would get two more tries to get things right.

As the competition continued, Laval University of Canada, whose student chapter got the time prize on Sunday, maintained its speedy reputation with its fastest run of 6.17 s. However, in the last round, the Georgia Tech of Metz, Lorraine, France chapter entry edged out Laval with a time of just 6.03 s. Sadly, the Fresnel vehicle did not cross the finish line in any of the three trials.

Judging was based on aesthetics, originality, time and completion of the course. The originality prize went to a truly international team: three student chapters from Spain, two from Ireland and one from Poland. Its car was good at making 360-degree turns. “I think it was quite fast without the spinning,” said Monika Leniec of Wroclaw, Poland.

The University of Tennessee team was commended for aesthetics. And the overall prize of $250 went to Metz-Lorraine for that speedy upset finish.

The Georgia Tech second-year grad student in electrical engineering, Jeremy Dickerson, said he was the solo builder of the winning car, because the Metz-Lorraine campus chapter is only a couple of months old. Dickerson, who is studying the use of indium gallium nitride in solar cells, is from Idaho (U.S.A.) originally, but his wife is from France, and they plan to raise their 11-month-old daughter bilingually.

Here are some photos of the competition, again provided by OPN Managing Editor Christina Folz.

Each “driver” had to keep the moving light source centered over the car in order to get enough “solar” power for the car to function.

OSA Honorary Member Roy Glauber (left, in dark vest) watched the proceedings with great interest. He’s one of the three 2005 Nobel laureates for contributions to optics.

Jeremy Dickerson demonstrates the winning technique on the race course.

Tuesday’s competitors pose for a group portrait.

Three cheers for all the entrants! We hope to see you next year, too.


2009-10 October

FiO/LS Day 2: Switching Into High Gear

13. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

On Monday, OSA’s annual meeting, Frontiers in Optics (FiO), kicked into high gear with an excellent set of plenary talks, plus award ceremonies for both OSA and the American Physical Society (APS).

One of OSA’s young professional bloggers, Adam Zysk, paid special attention to the first half of the session. He mentioned OSA Honorary Member and Nobel laureate Roy Glauber’s childhood efforts to build a telescope -- which was one of the personal stories that inspired me to write an OPN feature article on amateur astronomy earlier this year.

Another one of our FiO bloggers, Bob Schoonover, covered the plenary talks by Andrea Ghez and Janos Kirz in a “live blogging” fashion. OPN Managing Editor Christina Folz did a lot of “tweeting” while Ghez was speaking -- to review her live updates, go to and follow @OPNmagazine.

By interviewing the Ives Medalist (with Quinn Endowment) Robert Byer on Sunday, I’d gotten a preview of his plenary talk, but I still enjoyed his complete lecture. Byer self-deprecatingly mentioned that in 1975 he had been “optimistic” that the total market for optical parametric oscillators would be about 50 units, but by today more than 10,000 of the devices had been sold. In 1988 he came out with “Byer’s version of Moore’s Law,” which stated that the cost of diode laser bars would drop to $1 per watt in 2004. That price was delayed for two years due to the telecom bust, but today diode bars cost roughly 10 cents per watt.

Byer, who has been at Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif., U.S.A.) for four decades, said that one of California’s highlights of 2009 was the Northrop Grumman Space Technologies demonstration of a 105-kW laser in January 2009 (I reported on that from CLEO/IQEC in June). “One hundred kilowatts does a lot more than cut metal,” he quipped. Another bright spot in Silicon Valley is the Laser Electron Accelerator Project (LEAP), which will use photonic crystal accelerator structures to blast electrons with more energy than copper-based technology. Finally, California’s National Ignition Facility finished its 192 beamlines this year and could create a “sun” in the lab for 10 picoseconds one year from now.

Of course, laser fusion is not the only way in which optics is involved in the field of renewable energy. A Monday FiO session covered such topics as photosynthetic generation of biofuels and optimization of photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation.

Tasios Melis of the University of California at Berkeley (U.S.A.) presented his continuing experiments to increase light penetration into colonies of small plants that generate biofuels. Ray Kostiuk of the University of Arizona (U.S.A.) said a holographic planar concentrator (HPC) could reduce the amount of expensive PV material required for a typical building’s solar-power setup. The low-cost holographic gratings placed above the solar cells would allow for large collection angles without the need for tracking the Sun’s daily path through the sky. A team from the University of New Mexico (U.S.A.) is developing quantum-dots-in-a-well solar cells, which could lead to lightweight thin-film arrays that are at least as efficient as rigid solar panels.

Schoolteachers attending the OSA science education program on Thursday evening will receive solar-cell kits among other materials for middle and high school classrooms. OSA is offering three renewable-energy topical meetings next June, and our open-access journal, Optics Express, will start publishing periodic “Energy Express” sections next year (submissions deadline for the first one is coming up on December 15).

Late on Monday afternoon I succumbed to my natural interest in astrophysics and wandered into the joint FiO/Laser Science XXV special symposium on gravitational wave detection.

Jeff Livas of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md., U.S.A.) talked about some of the technological challenges in designing the instruments for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). NASA and the European Space Agency are jointly building a triangular space interferometer with an arm length of 5 million km, so noise reduction techniques will be crucial. The types of objects LISA will study include supermassive black-hole mergers, galactic close compact binaries, and extreme-mass-ratio in-spiraling objects (EMRIs), which could allow scientists to test general relativity to high precision.

Tuesday’s FiO schedule includes a special symposium on 3-D technology for the entertainment industry and the start of the topical meetings that constitute the OSA Fall Optics and Photonics Congress. Plus, our student members will bring their solar race cars back to the track for the final round of racing. Since it’s an overcast, rainy day in San Jose, it’s a good thing that the track is inside the exhibit hall!

2009-10 October

Greetings from FiO -- Report on Day 1

12. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

Greetings from San Jose! OSA’s 93rd annual meeting, Frontiers in Optics (FiO), has begun in the capital of California’s Silicon Valley.

You might think, “Wait a minute! I thought the conference began on a Monday.” It’s true that the technical sessions start with the Monday morning plenary and awards presentations. Sunday, however, offered early attendees a slate of OSA short courses on photonics topics, and a number of OSA’s boards and committees held governance meetings.

One of my personal highlights of the day was conducting a far-ranging audio interview with Stanford University physicist Robert L. Byer, our 2009 Ives Medal/Quinn Endowment winner. Our conversation ranged from the green laser pointer to the search for gravitational waves to the isotropy of the universe. Keep watching the OPN home page after FiO for our podcast featuring this dynamic scientist.

Another treat for Sunday’s attendees was the annual “What’s Hot in Optics” session, which alerted the audience to some of the important FiO papers organized by OSA technical division.

Generating the most excitement, though, was the opening round of the first OSA International Student Chapter Solar Car Race. No, the student members -- fresh out of the Student Chapter Leadership Meeting earlier in the day -- weren’t burning rubber on the streets of San Jose. Instead, contestants brought their small plastic cars to the ballroom floor and tried to get them to run from the starting to the finish line without running off the marked track.

(The ballroom, and not outdoors? A bright lamp on a moving tripod provided the “solar power.” Participants were responsible for keeping the light shining on their vehicles. The moderator, OPN contributing editor François Busque, used a ruler to make sure that the light was a uniform 28 cm above each car’s solar cell.)

All cars were built from the same basic kit, but entrants were encouraged to modify the cars to boost efficiency. Some of the little vehicles zipped toward the finish line, while others might need a wheel alignment job. The enthusiastic crowd cheered for every entry.

Ultimately, the judges picked three winners: for originality, Jeremy Dickerson of Georgia Tech’s campus in Lorraine, France; for aesthetics, Jean-Simon Corbeil of Ecole Polytechnique, Canada; and for time, Veronique Zambon of Laval University, Canada. Très bien!

I will post some photos of the event, taken by OPN Managing Editor Christina Folz, in a separate entry.

The final round of the solar car race takes place on Tuesday at noon in the ballroom. Be there or be a square wheel!

Don’t forget to keep up with the conference by following OSA’s bloggers and Twitterers at the FiO online media page. For example, Adam Zysk has written about his journey to San Jose and his first impressions. I encourage everyone to visit these blogs and comment on them.

2009-10 October

Happy 102nd Birthday, Mr. Webber!

10. October 2009

By Patricia Daukantas

Alfred C. Webber of Chadds Ford, Pa. (U.S.A.), became an OSA Fellow in 1972. And tomorrow (October 10), he’s celebrating his 102nd birthday.

A native of Lisbon Falls, Maine, Webber graduated from Bates College in 1928 with a degree in physics. He earned a master’s degree from Boston University and worked as a high school science teacher before joining DuPont in Wilmington, Del., in 1942. During the next 30 years he published several articles in JOSA on measuring the color and transparency of plastic materials. He served on a number of committees for the American Society for Testing and Materials (now ASTM International), including a term as chair of ASTM”s board of directors in the early 1960s. He also headed the technical committee on plastics for the International Organization for Standards (ISO).

And he is an OSA Fellow Emeritus. In fact, when I phoned him today to wish him a happy birthday, he quickly volunteered that he still has his OSA Fellow certificate on his wall. It was signed by his good friend Mary Warga, who served as OSA’s executive secretary from 1959 to 1972.

Webber retired the same year as he was designated an OSA Fellow, but he has never stopped pursuing the activities that he loves. “The great fun of retirement is that there are so many things you can play at and do,” he said.

Although one of his 74-year-old twin sons drives the car now, Webber still attends regular meetings of his lapidary, camera and astronomy hobby clubs. With bird feeders and an observatory in his backyard, he surveys feathered creatures by day and the stars by night.

His longtime friend and neighbor, the late artist Andrew Wyeth, used Webber’s telescope to observe the Moon for some of his paintings, and the Webber and Wyeth children played together while they were growing up. The Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory in Delaware named Webber a fellow of the observatory for his many years of assistance with star parties and antique telescope refurbishing.

One of Webber’s more unusual hobbies is the study of micromounts – tiny mineral crystals viewed under a stereo microscope. He collected more than 2,600 of these small specimens, each fitting into a 2- by 2- by 2-cm box, and he has gone to conferences in Canada to trade crystals and photographs of crystals with fellow enthusiasts. He recently donated the collection to Bates so that students can study the gemstones.

Last year, he traveled to Lewiston, Maine, to celebrate his 80th class reunion at Bates. He was the only representative of the classes of the 1920s at the reunion weekend – in fact, the next oldest alumnus was from the class of 1938. Webber enjoyed leading the 2008 Bates reunion parade, and tomorrow he will celebrate his birthday with a reunion of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren from as far away as California.

We would like to wish Alfred Webber a happy birthday. Also, if you know of any other OSA Members or Fellows who are marking their 100th or higher birthdays, we would love to hear about them.

2009-10 October , , ,