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Recognizing, Remembering Giants of Discovery

Jul 2013
Karen A. Newman, Group Publisher,

We congratulate Robert Alfano, distinguished professor of science and engineering at The City College of New York, who in June was named the recipient of the 2013 Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science from the American Physical Society. The award was made for his pioneering contributions to the field of ultrafast laser science, including the discovery of supercontinuum generation and laser materials, as well as the study of pulse propagation in strongly scattering media.

This is the latest of Alfano’s many well-deserved honors, which include the Coherent-Biophotonics Lifetime Achievement Award in Biomedical Optics from the Society of Photo-Instrumentation Engineers in 2002 and The Optical Society’s Charles Hard Townes Award in 2008 for his white-light supercontinuum discovery.

In 2012, Alfano’s trailblazing contributions to optical methods for biology and medicine were honored with the first Britton Chance Biomedical Optics Award from SPIE. On accepting the award, he said, “Britton Chance was the real giant. Everything is built on giants – it’s not done alone. But Britton was one of those guys that did it alone.”

Chance, who would have been 100 years old this month, garnered a good deal of recognition for his contributions during his 97 years of life. Among his many accolades was the Christopher Columbus Discovery Award in Biomedical Research in 1992 from the National Institutes of Health. In June, the University of Pennsylvania held the International Symposium on Metabolic Imaging and Spectroscopy, honoring the centennial of his birth.

As we celebrate the work of Bob Alfano and remember the legacy of Britton Chance, we also reflect on the enormous contributions of James P. Gordon, including his work on the first maser in the lab of C.H. Townes in 1954. Gordon died June 21 at the age of 85. Fittingly, he won The Optical Society’s Charles Hard Townes Award in 1981.

Among his many contributions, 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. He also is recognized for providing the theoretical basis for optical tweezers, which have become important in the study of biological systems.

In one of our feature articles this month, contributing editor Marie Freebody delivers an update on terahertz spectroscopy as a possible answer to the need for noninvasive high-resolution tissue imaging. Because terahertz frequencies are readily absorbed by water, they can be used to image most organic tissue, Freebody reports. Read the entire article, “Terahertz Spectroscopy Promises Better Diagnosis, Safer Drugs,” beginning on page 24.

I hope you enjoy the issue, and I invite you to send your comments to me at

2013 Arthur L. Schawlow PrizeAmerican Physical SocietyAmericasBasic ScienceBiophotonicsCharles H. TownesCity College of New YorkEditorialGary BoydimagingJames P. GordonKaren A. Newmanlaser materials Britton ChanceLaser ScienceMarie FreebodyMaterials & ChemicalsNew YorkPennsylvaniaRobert Alfanoultrafast laser scienceultrafast laserslasers

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