With the death of Arthur Guenther on 23 April 2007, the world of optics lost a powerful and effective advocate. His contributions ranged over a wide variety of activities, including science, education, technology policy, economic development, and international cooperation. The loss was even greater for all of us who interacted with Art on a personal level, for whom his passing deprived us of a friend, a mentor, a critic, and an inspiration.
Art Guenther in 1977 at Alex Glass's wedding.
In this brief memoir, it is not possible to enumerate all of Art’s achievements and the dozens of awards that he received. His contributions have been recognized by all the professional societies active in the field of optics in the United States, as well as the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Art Guenther was born in Hoboken, NJ, on 20 April 1931. He attended Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), where he received a BS in chemistry, and went on to receive his PhD in chemistry and physics from The Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA) in 1957. While at Penn State, he worked in David Rank’s spectroscopy laboratory, an experience that influenced his decision to pursue a career in optics.
After his graduate studies, Art embarked on his long career with the U.S. Air Force, and spent 31 years at the Kirtland Air Force Base (Albuquerque, NM), much of it as chief scientist of the Air Force Weapons Laboratory (now part of the Air Force Research Laboratory).
Like most of his contemporaries, Art was trained in pre-laser optics and spectroscopy. He entered into his professional career at a time of great excitement, with the first demonstration of the laser in 1960. The subsequent discovery of Q-switching two years later made it possible to concentrate light on materials at a very high intensity, albeit for a short time.
Art at the 35th Boulder Damage Symposium with an autographed book of the symposium abstracts.
Throughout his career, Art retained a passionate interest in the interaction of intense light and matter, and co-founded the Symposium on Optical Materials for High Power Lasers (also known as the Boulder Damage Symposium). The symposium, now sponsored by SPIE, is currently in its 39th year, and has become the pre-eminent forum for the exchange of information on the physics and technology of materials for high-power/high-energy lasers.
Art’s contributions to science go far beyond his technical achievements. He fostered the growth of optics education and industry around the world. He served on the U.S. Advisory Committee for the International Commission for Optics (ICO), and was elected president of the ICO from 2000 to 2002. As president, he championed the growth of optics education in the developing world, and chaired the advisory committee for the first major ICO event in Africa.
He served as science adviser to three governors of New Mexico. In that capacity, Art played a major role in the creation of the New Mexico Centers of Technical Excellence, including the Center for High Technology Materials at the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM), and served as the chair of the state commission that oversaw the centers and ensured their long-term success.
He also was instrumental in establishing a firm foundation for the University of Central Florida’s Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, now the College of Optics and Photonics (Orlando, FL).
Art had a vision of the 21st century as “the Age of Light,” and viewed optics as a fertile source of new science and technology, as well as an engine for economic development and international cooperation. He pursued this vision with skill, commitment, boundless energy, and unfailing good humor. His efforts made a lasting impact on the growth of optics around the world, and his leadership enriched the lives of the hundreds of people who were fortunate enough to be his colleagues, students, and friends.
I would like to thank Pierre Chavel, M. J. Soileau, and Steve Brueck for their help in preparing this memoir.