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In Memoriam: Anthony Siegman, laser science and technology pioneer

13 October 2011

Laser pioneer Anthony Siegman died 7 October; he is shown above during a talk at a laser anniversary reception at the Smithsonian Institution in 2010.

Anthony E. Siegman, a leader in laser research who made numerous contributions to the understanding of microwave and quantum electronics, died at his home in Stanford, California, on 7 October. He was 79.

Siegman  retired in 1998 after more than 40 years as a member of the Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics faculty at Stanford University. His early research topics including pioneering work in microwave masers and parametric devices contributed to the body of knowledge that enabled the invention of the laser.

Throughout his career, he published widely and prolifically on lasers in scientific journals as well as authoring numerous book chapters and three textbooks, including the highly regarded Lasers.

During 2010, he traveled widely as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the community-wide LaserFest celebration noting the 50th anniversary of the invention of the first laser. In his talks on the advancement of the laser, he served as an ambassador for the pursuit of scientific collaboration for the good of humankind.

Regarding his role in the development of maser and laser technology, "I was very fortunate to be around as a very junior technical person in a very good location -- Stanford University -- when those fields got started," Siegman said in an interview with SPIE during the laser anniversary year. "As a result, I had some very fortunate opportunities to start working in those fields very early on, and to get to know many if not most of the real pioneers in the field."

Colleagues recalled him as an engaged and talented teacher and scientist.

"Tony Siegman was a pillar of the Electrical Engineering department," said SPIE Fellow Joseph Goodman, William Ayer Professor Emeritus at Stanford. "I admired his depth of knowledge, his wisdom, his superb teaching style, and his kindness when dealing with both students and junior faculty. He will be keenly missed."

Anthony DeMaria, Past President and Fellow of SPIE, said "The laser community has lost an outstanding researcher, teacher and spokesman for the technology." DeMaria recalled working with Siegman on numerous society committees over the years. "I found him to be approachable, insightful, and willing to assist on solving problems. He was one of my heroes."

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs remembered Siegman's intellectual focus and enthusiasm for his field:

"I recall meeting with Tony at one of our events and listening as he described his latest ideas in laser-related  waveguides and modes with great passion and at great length," Arthurs said. "We were eventually interrupted, but met several months later somewhere else in the world and straight away, Tony resumed the 'lecture'."

Siegman was a keynote conference presenter and short course instructor and served on several conference program committees for SPIE events.

Born on 23 September in Detroit, Michigan, Siegman earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard College, M.S. in Applied Physics from the University of California at Los Angeles, and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.

He was elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences, and was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, IEEE, Laser Institute of America, and Optical Society of America (OSA). He had received awards from several scientific societies recognizing his contributions to laser science and optics, and served as OSA President.

Siegman had consulted for numerous companies and government agencies including NIST, NSF, and NBS, and was a member of Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.

He is survived by his wife, Virginia (Jeannie), three children, a stepdaughter, and two grandchildren.

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Anthony Siegman (at far left), Nobel Laureate and SPIE Fellow Charles Townes (third from right), and Nicolaas Bloembergen (center front, in light suit) and other scientists at a meeting in 1958, during the race to the laser.