By John N. Howard, OPN Contributing Editor
The May issue of Optics & Photonics News includes a profile that traces the fascinating life of Art Schawlow, Nobel laureate and former OSA president, as well as a history of the journal Applied Optics and how it came to publish some of the seminal papers on early laser development. This post explores where the two stories intersect...
In 1959 the Board of Directors of OSA decided that OSA should have a full-time executive secretary working in an executive office located in Washington, D.C. Professor Mary Warga of the University of Pittsburgh was recruited to fill that role. She was nearing retirement age from the physics department at Pittsburgh, and she looked forward with much enthusiasm to her new duties at OSA. A year later, in the fall of 1960, the OSA Board also voted to launch a new OSA journal, Applied Optics. The hope was that it would capture some of the interdisciplinary papers related to optics that did not seem to be flowing to the Journal of the Optical Society of America (JOSA).
Mary Warga introduced a new, one-page column, “From the Executive Office,” in JOSA, and she also began a program of visiting research centers that were oriented toward optics, to inform those researchers about OSA and to try to persuade those workers to join OSA and submit their research papers to JOSA and AO. One of the laboratories she visited in her first year at OSA was Bell Telephone Laboratories, which included a very distinguished research group located in Murrey Hill, N.J., U.S.A. When she visited there in 1960, her host was a bright young spectroscopist with a strong background in optics. His name was Arthur Schawlow.
Arthur Schawlow was born in suburban New York in 1921. His father was an emigrant from Latvia to America, and his mother was Canadian. When Arthur was three years old, the family moved to Toronto, where Arthur attended public schools, and then (at age 16) the University of Toronto. He originally thought he would be an engineer, but then he settled into physics. Presumably, he took the optics course offered by Professor W. E.K. Middleton. (Middleton was very active in OSA, and had served on the OSA Board of Directors. In 1933, Middleton had been the Ives Medalist of OSA.) After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Toronto; Schawlow remained there for his graduate study. His thesis advisor was Malcolm Crawford, a spectroscopist.
Following his Ph.D. at Toronto, Schawlow served a post-doctoral fellowship at Columbia University, working under Charles Townes. He then joined Bell Labs in 1951.
So, when Mary Warga visited Bell Labs in 1960; Arthur Schawlow was a kind, sympathetic host. He immediately joined OSA and promised to urge several of his colleagues also to join. Futhermore, he promised Mary Warga that his group would submit a paper for the inaugural issue of Applied Optics. Mary returned to Washington following her visit to Murray Hill very pleased with the success of her visit. Schawlow became active in OSA and later served as president of OSA. He also went on to share a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1981 with Nicolaas Bloembergen. Schawlow is the only Nobel laureate to have also served as OSA president.
Nobel Laureates, Optics History, OSA History, Physics History, Profiles