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Celebrating Gérard Mourou: ‘From ultrafast to extreme light'

07 July 2014

Photonics luminaries and leaders from throughout the global photonics community gathered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, last month to celebrate the life and achievements of ultrafast laser technology pioneer Gérard Mourou on his 70th birthday. The weekend celebration at the University of Michigan included a full day of talks on Mourou's role in the development of ultrafast and extreme-light technologies and their importance in research, healthcare, and other areas.

Mourou's work has paved the way for the field of ultrafast lasers and their applications in scientific, engineering, and medical disciplines, and enabled more accurate therapies for vision correction and other applications.

photo of Gerard Mourou

Along with Donna Strickland, Mourou co-invented a technique called chirped pulse amplification (CPA). The technique allows for amplifying an ultrashort laser pulse to very high optical powers (currently petawatt) with the laser pulse being stretched out temporarily and spectrally prior to amplification. The development of CPA opened a new branch of optics called relativistic optics, one of the most active fields of physics today, and enabled the increase in laser peak power by a factor of 103 to 106.

Mourou also pioneered the field of femtosecond ophthalmology in which the femtosecond laser is used to perform precise cuts for myopia correction of corneal transplants.

Mourou is a member of the Haut Collège at the École Polytechnique France, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan and director of the new International Center for Zettawatt-Exawatt Science and Technology (IZEST).

He started the Institut de la Lumière Extrème at ENSTA, and was director of the Ultrafast Science Group at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester.

He founded the Ultrafast Science Laboratory, which became the U.S. National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for Ultrafast Optical Science, at the University of Michigan in 1991. He is the initiator of the European project Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI), a major scientific collaboration to produce the most powerful laser pulses ever. The ELI is being built in three countries, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Hungary.

Among those who spoke during the daylong program "From Ultrafast to Extreme Light" to celebrate Mourou were Strickland, Mourou, and others who have advanced laser technology:

  • SPIE Fellows Ursula Keller (ETH Zurich) and Christopher Barty (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
  • SPIE Members Sir David Payne (University of of Southampton) and Wayne Knox (University of Rochester)
  • Herbert Winful of University of Michigan who co-chaired the event
  • Paul Corkum of University of Ottawa (Canada)
  • Todd Ditmire of University of Texas at Austin (USA)
  • Wolfgang Sandner, director general and CEO of ELI
  • Eugene Arthurs, SPIE CEO

photo of Gerard Mourou and Eugene Arthurs

"Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Mourou has been a leading force in moving optics and photonics forward," said Arthurs, at right, above. "His brilliant work has expanded our knowledge of the field and shown the way for numerous new paths of research.

"The important research facilities founded under his leadership compose a legacy that will continue to benefit humankind going forward, as new technologies they spawn find new applications to address challenges in healthcare and other fields."

For more on Mourou's achievements:

Photos from the weekend celebration

group photo

photo of Gerard Mourou

photo of Dr. Winful  photo of Ursula Keller

presentation slide at Gerard Mourou celebration

photo of Wolfgang Sandner  photo of Kafka and Knox

photo of slide presentation, Exawatt Laser

photo of Gerard Mourou