BROOKLINE, Mass., May 29, 2012 — Laser pioneer Dr. Elias Snitzer, inventor of the glass laser, the fiber laser and the fiber amplifier, died on May 21 after a sudden illness. He was 87.
Snitzer’s contributions to photonics research spanned more than four decades and helped bring about the fiber optics technology on which the Internet and other communications systems operate.
Known as the father of the glass laser, Snitzer demonstrated the first optical fiber laser in 1961, a year after Maiman reported the first crystalline laser based on ruby. His inventions include both neodymium- and erbium-doped laser glass, and he co-developed the first fiber optic laser amplifier with laser glass, according to his obituary in The Boston Globe.
Snitzer received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Tufts University in 1945 and a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago. Upon completion of his education, Snitzer worked at Honeywell Industrial Instruments Division on thermal detector technology. He began teaching at Lowell (Massachusetts) Technological Institute in 1956.
In the spring of 1958, Snitzer was subpoenaed to appear in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee “as a consequence of the fact that I had been very heavily involved in left-wing politics as a student at the University of Chicago,” he said years later. He lost his job; several years later, the case was settled in his favor.
Snitzer was hired by American Optical’s director of research in 1959. At American Optical, he began his work in optical fibers and lasers. In the early 1960s and ’70s, Snitzer published on the operation of the first Nd:glass laser, SPIE Fellow and past president Anthony DeMaria recalled in a SPIE release. This announcement was followed by the first flashlamp-pumped fiber laser and an analysis of the optical modes in a multimode glass fiber.
“He then joined my research group at United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) to head the photonics laboratories,” DeMaria told SPIE. “At UTRC he initiated the fiber optics sensor research program. He had the idea of interfering two argon ion laser beams to form fringes on a glass fiber, thereby imprinting phase gratings in the fiber to form optical filters and wavelength sensitive mirrors.”
Snitzer later moved to Polaroid Corp., where he invented the double-cladded glass fiber, thereby facilitating optical pumping of fiber lasers and amplifiers. After Polaroid, he worked at Rutgers University, where he continued to teach and to research fiber laser amplifiers, glass, and fiber Bragg gratings until his retirement in 2001, according to an OSA release.
He held numerous groundbreaking patents and received several awards for his exemplary work in the field of lasers and fiber optics, including the Otto Schott Research Award, the Charles Hard Townes Award and the Rank Prize in Opto-Electronics, according to his Boston Globe obituary. He had been a member of OSA since 1961 and was named a Fellow in 1964.
Snitzer was among laser luminaries honored in the SPIE Advancing the Laser tribute display shown around the world in 2010 as part of the 50th anniversary of the demonstration of the first laser. He published several papers with SPIE and served as conference chair and proceedings editor.
Snitzer was a US Navy veteran of World War II and a devoted family man. His wife was the late Dr. Shirley (Wood) Snitzer, and he is survived by five children, 10 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.
“His death is a great loss to the optics and photonics community,” SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said in a statement from that organization. “Dr. Snitzer made a huge difference to our field, and his work has contributed to and influenced our world in profound ways.”
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