Ali Javan

In Memoriam: Ali Javan, 1926-2016

Ali Javan, co-inventor of the gas laser and recipient of the OSA Fredrick Ives Medal, passed away on 12 September 2016, at the age of 90.  Javan’s career in physics and spectroscopy spanned more than 50 years.  The helium-neon laser which he co-invented with William R. Bennett in 1960 was the first continuous light laser.  In addition to many scientific applications, future generations of gas lasers led to inventions on the areas of Internet data transmission, bar-code scanners, metal welding, medical technologies and monitoring, and laser printers.

Javan was born in 1926 in Tehran, Iran, and studied at Tehran University in 1947-48, before moving to the US in 1949 to study physics and math at Columbia University, NY.  He completed his PhD in Physics in 1954 at Columbia followed by post-doctoral studies, and then a position at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey during which time he co-invented the gas laser.  In 1962, he joined the faculty at MIT where he developed a groundbreaking research lab, one of the largest of its kind in the 1960s and 1970s.  Noted accomplishments during his distinguished career at MIT were the development of the first method for accurately measuring the speed of light, launching the field of high-resolution laser spectroscopy, and advancing the theory of the three-level maser. Javan was the MIT Francis Wright Davis Professor of Physics Emeritus at the time of his death.

Among his many awards are the Albert Einstein World Medal of Science of the World Cultural Council Foundation and an Inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation.  He is a Fellow of National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of American Academy of Art and Sciences, and an Honorary Associate Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences.  He is also an Honorary Associate Fellow of the Trieste Foundation for Advancement and Freedom in Sciences, and a long-term member of Sigma Xi Society.
Javan’s contributions to the physics community were significant, and he will be greatly missed by his colleagues and the community.