In memoriam: Gabriel Popescu

22 June 2022
by Daneet Steffens

SPIE Fellow Gabriel Popescu — affectionately known as Gabi — passed away 16 June 2022, during a visit to his hometown of Prundu, Romania.

Gabriel Popescu at Photonics West 2015

At the time of his passing, Popescu was the William L. Everitt Distinguished Professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He was also the director of his Quantitative Light Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, as well as the founder and president of Phi Optics, an optical microscopy company supporting and commercializing the work of bio-pharma and life-sciences academic researchers.

Highly active in the SPIE community, Popescu served on the Journal of Biomedical Optics (JBO) editorial board; he was a founder of the SPIE Quantitative Phase Imaging conference at Photonics West’s BiOS, which began in 2015, helping to grow it into one of the largest conferences in BiOS; and had acted as advisor to the UIUC SPIE Student Chapter since his arrival there in 2007. In addition, for SPIE, he taught courses entitled Introduction to Quantitative Phase Imaging and Fourier Optics. This year, he was recognized with the SPIE Dennis Gabor Award in Diffractive Optics.

Gabriel Popescu recieves his SPIE Fellow Certificate

At SPIE Photonics West 2014, SPIE Past President (2015) Toyohiko Yatagai, left, presents Gabriel Popescu his SPIE Fellow certificate.

A pioneer of spatial light interference microscopy (SLIM) and Quantitative Phase Imaging (QPI), Popescu wrote the first QPI textbook, Quantitative Phase Imaging of Cells and Tissues, in 2011. He was also a much-cherished, much-admired colleague across the optics community in general, developing several new courses at UIUC — including Optics Imaging and Modern Light Microscopy — as well as mentoring students and postdocs who have continued into successful careers in both industry and academia.

“Gabi was a dominant leader in the fields of quantitative phase microscopy and optical scatter imaging, as well as a gregarious and caring personality,” said Chair of the Department of Medical Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, MacLean Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College, and Editor-in-Chief of JBO Brian Pogue. “He is someone whose memory will last in everyone with whom he interacted, and he will be greatly missed.” 

Popescu earned his bachelor’s degree and an MSc degree in physics from the University of Bucharest in 1995 and 1996 respectively, receiving his PhD in optics from the University of Central Florida’s College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL) in 2002. At MIT, he pursued postdoctoral work in biomedical optics, with a particular focus on quantitative phase imaging.

Popescu, who fell for optics as a teenager, was a true scientist, always focused on both the technology and its promise. "I am convinced that this is how the future should work," he said in a 2014 interview with Wiley Analytical Science. "[A]ttacking a problem from different angles, sharing expertise and adapting information into something new and something better."

UIUC’s tribute to Professor Gabriel Popescu.




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