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  • Looking Back, Seeing the Future

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2013
Karen A. Newman, Group Publisher,

We were saddened to hear of the passing of James P. Gordon on June 21. Gordon, whose contributions to quantum electronics and photonics included work on the first demonstration of the maser in 1954, was 85.

As a student in the lab of Charles Townes, Gordon analyzed, designed, built and demonstrated the successful operation of the first maser with Townes and Herbert Zeiger in 1954. He received a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University and then spent his entire career at AT&T Bell Laboratories, retiring in 1996. His work contributed greatly to optics and quantum electronics.

Gordon conceived and provided the theory (with Gary Boyd) of confocal resonators, fundamental for the modern analysis of Gaussian laser beams and optical cavities that are critical to the design and operation of lasers, according to The Optical Society (OSA). He also made several contributions to optical communications, including pioneering the quantum theory of the information capacity of an optical communications channel, observing soliton propagation in optical fibers for the first time and conducting work related to the fundamental limits of coherent optical transmission systems, among many others. His broad interests also included providing the theoretical basis for optical tweezers.

“When Jim joined us in 2010 for the LaserFest gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the laser, it gave us an opportunity to celebrate his legacy as one of the pioneers in modern optics and photonics,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “We were thrilled to have him there. He will be missed by all who knew him, and we send our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

For his work, Gordon was honored with awards and recognition including OSA’s Charles Hard Townes and Max Born awards, the Physics of Quantum Electronics Conference’s Willis E. Lamb Award, and OSA’s Frederic Ives Medal.

At Photonics Spectra, we are grateful every day for the contributions of the talented people in the photonics industry, from those who were there to stimulate the industry into existence to the newsmakers of today. We take pride in reporting on the efforts of individuals, teams and organizations around the world building upon the science and application of light. You may recall that just last year, a group of researchers at England’s National Physical Laboratory and Imperial College London breathed new life into masing with a demonstration of a solid-state device working at room temperature.

In this, our annual List Issue, we are pleased to share the thoughts of industry professionals – and perhaps even you – on a number of questions, including this one, which elicited a number of great responses: “What advice would you give to recent graduates in your field?” The answers are sure to get you thinking. I invite you to read the answers to this and other questions in our feature beginning on page 50, and if you missed the opportunity to weigh in on any of our questions, I hope you’ll put your thoughts in a letter to the editor so we can print them in a future issue.

As part of the List Issue, Managing Editor Laura Marshall profiles a number of emerging scientists and engineers under 20 years old who may very well shape the photonics industry of the future. Will any of them be celebrated at the 100th anniversary of the laser? It remains to be seen. You can learn more about these young people beginning on page 50.

Enjoy the issue.

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