EE prof, laser scientist Siegman dies

Oct. 18, 2011, 2:02 a.m.

Professor emeritus of electrical engineering and author of the classic reference text on laser science Anthony Siegman died Oct. 7 at his Stanford home. He was 79.

Siegman is the inventor of the unstable resistor-a device that makes high-power lasers and beam quality possible-and is widely-recognized for contributions to “laser mode-locking,” a laser technique for measurement. His 1986 book “Lasers” is considered a definitive work on laser science.

Professor emeritus of electrical engineering Stephen Harris, who was one of Siegman’s first students, called his death “heartbreaking.”

“Tony Siegman is so well liked-so universally liked and respected,” he told the Stanford Report.

“He is a model scientist,” Harris continued. “You would look far and wide to find a laser engineer or scientist who doesn’t have Tony’s book ‘Lasers’ on his desk. He had a unique ability to blend mathematics and physical insight.”

Born Sept. 23, 1931, and raised in rural Michigan, Siegman earned his undergraduate degree summa cum laude from Harvard in 1952. He then pursued a master’s degree in applied physics from UCLA in 1954 before following his supervisor from Hughes Research Center in Culver City to Stanford. He received his faculty appointment in 1956 and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1957.

He began researching microwave electronics and eventually lasers and optics.

“At that time, microwave electronics was one of Stanford’s particular strengths and an intellectually exciting field,” Siegman once said. “For me, it soon led to a natural evolution into the emerging areas of lasers and optical electronics.”

Following his appointment to full professorship in 1964, Siegman received several awards throughout his career. He spent time as a visiting professor at Harvard and was a Guggenheim Fellow at the IBM Research Labs. He retired officially in 1998 but continued to lecture and publish.

“He was remarkable in his teaching, in his work with students and the research that he did,” said Robert Byer, professor of applied physics, in a statement to the Report. “He was the cardinal of the laser community at Stanford.”

– Ellora Israni

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