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In memoriam: Michael S. Feld, laser and spectroscopy pioneer

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Tom Laurin

Just after our May-June issue deadline had passed, we received word that Michael S. Feld, an OSA fellow and professor of physics at MIT, had passed away at 69 on April 10 in Jamaica Plain, Mass., after an eight-year struggle with cancer. It is always sad to lose a member of the photonics community, but this loss is an especially heavy blow.

Feld had been the director of the MIT George R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory since 1976, and he made fundamental contributions to laser science and early cancer detection.

“He had a gift for building collaborations across disciplines,” wrote physicist Charles H. Holbrow in an obituary.

Feld founded the MIT Laser Research Facility in 1979 for physical science research using lasers and spectroscopy, and his research interests were broad, running the gamut from fundamental physics to biomedical engineering. He sought innovations in laser spectroscopy and microscopy, looking for spectroscopic methods to identify cancer cells and new ways to use electric fields to study cell behavior. His work on superradiance led to the development of the single-atom laser in 1994. In that same year, he co-founded Newton Labs in Woburn, Mass.


He also was the director of the Laser Biomedical Research Center at MIT, where he studied laser biomedicine as well as the use of fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy for disease diagnosis through endoscopy and optical tomography.

Feld was a fellow of numerous organizations, including OSA, the Society of Sigma Xi, the American Physical Society, the American Society for Laser Surgery and Medicine, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The awards he received throughout his career include the Thompson Award in 1991 for developing biomedical Raman spectroscopy; the Vinci of Excellence in 1995 for developing the single-atom laser; the Lamb Medal of the Physics of Quantum Electronics Conference for the first experimental demonstrations of superradiance and the microlaser, and for pioneering applications of optics to biological physics; and the 2008 OSA William F. Meggers Award “for major contributions to the foundations of laser spectroscopy, and for pioneering developments in the application of spectroscopy to biomedicine.”

“Feld enjoyed crossing boundaries, and he savored diversity of ideas, of research fields, of colleagues and of collaborators,” Holbrow wrote.

His death was caused by complications arising from multiple myeloma. “He knew since 2002 that he had this fatal disease but, characteristically, he squeezed a great deal of life and work from the eight years that intensive medical care was able to give him,” Holbrow added. “He married; he traveled three times to Australia, to India, several times to Europe, and to Japan; he oversaw the PhD thesis work of a dozen students; and he (and they) published some 90 articles.

“Characteristically, he also collaborated with his personal physician to study his disease; he used his own terminal illness to advance medical research.”

Michael Feld will be missed, but his many contributions to spectroscopy, laser science and biomedicine will live on in the work of the more than 50 doctoral students he supervised, mentored and inspired during his career.

Jul 2010
Technique that defocuses activity from surrounding planes by means of the relative motions at the point of interest.
BiophotonicscancerEditorialMichael S. FeldmicrolaserMicroscopyMITPhDspectroscopyTest & Measurementtomographylasers

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