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Federico Capasso of Harvard to receive the 2016 Balzan Prize for Applied Photonics

13 September 2016

photo of CapassoSPIE Fellow Federico Capasso of Harvard University, co-inventor of the quantum cascade laser (QCL), has been named recipient of the 2016 Balzan Prize for Applied Photonics.

The prize, which includes an award of 750,000 Swiss Francs (approximately €685,000; US$765,000), will be presented in Rome 17 November.

Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, was recognized for his pioneering work photonic science and technology, particularly in the quantum design of new materials with electronic and optical features, which led to the realization of the QCL. The award also recognizes Capasso's major contributions in plasmonics and metamaterials.

Known as the father of bandgap engineering, Capasso and a team of researchers demonstrated the first QCL at Bell Labs in 1994. This fundamentally new light source featured an emission wavelength that could be designed to cover the mid- to far-infrared spectrum by tailoring the active region layer thickness. The QCL represented a radical departure from conventional solid-state lasers and made many IR diode lasers obsolete.

QCLs are considered one of the most important developments in laser physics in the last 20 years and have transformed the field of photonics. They are used in a wide range of industrial, defense, and security applications, including exhaust sensing, explosives detection, medical diagnostics, infrared imaging and countermeasures, and many other precision sensing and spectroscopic applications.

Capasso's scientific accomplishments with QCLs and bandgap engineering also earned him the 2013 SPIE Gold Medal, the Society's highest honor, and a share of the 2015 American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Rumford Prize.

He has been an active SPIE member since the 1980s, presenting his groundbreaking work at SPIE conferences, organizing symposia, and teaching courses.

Capasso is a member of the Novel In-Plane Semiconductor Lasers conference at SPIE Photonics West and the co-author of a paper on tunable QCL sources to be presented at SPIE Security + Defence 28 September.

The International Balzan Foundation, founded in 1957, recognizes innovative research in the humanities (literature, the moral sciences and the arts) and in the sciences (medicine and the physical, mathematical and natural sciences).

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