Michael S. Feld

Obituaries


In Memoriam: Michael S. Feld, 1940–2010

Michael S. FeldMichael S. Feld, an OSA Fellow and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died on April 10, 2010, in Jamaica Plain, MA, after an eight-year struggle with multiple myeloma. He was 69.

Feld, who directed the MIT George R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory since 1976, made fundamental contributions in the field of laser science and later pioneered devices for early cancer detection. Much of his research was conducted at the MIT Laser Research Facility, the center for physical science research using lasers and spectroscopy that he founded in 1979.

Feld's research interests ranged from fundamental physics — superradiance and innovations in laser spectroscopy — to biomedicine and biomedical engineering, new kinds of microscopy, spectroscopic identification of cancer cells, and novel uses of the electric field to study cell behavior. In 1973, Feld made the first experimental observation of superradiance, the collective spontaneous emission of an assembly of excited atoms. In 1987, he began a series of experiments to study the radiation of a single, isolated atom in an optical resonator, which led to the first demonstration of enhanced and suppressed spontaneous emission and radiative level shifts in an open optical resonator and, in 1994, to the development of the single atom laser.

Feld's more recent research activities dealt with laser biomedicine. He directed the Laser Biomedical Research Center at MIT, where he worked on the use of fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy to diagnose biological tissues and image disease via endoscopy and optical tomography.

Feld first came to MIT in 1958 as an undergraduate. He went on to do his PhD at MIT under the supervision of Professor Ali Javan, and in 1968 he became a member of the MIT faculty.  He was named Professor of Physics in 1979 and director of the Laser Biomedical Research Center in 1985. In 1994, he co-founded Newton Labs in Woburn, MA, and began working on medical devices using applied physics to solve biomedical problems. His son Jonathan is an optical engineer at the company.

Feld was elected as an OSA Fellow in 1976, and he was also a Fellow of the Society of Sigma Xi (1976), the American Physical Society (1978), the American Society for Laser Surgery and Medicine (1978), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1989). He received numerous other awards and honors during his career, including the Thompson Award (1991) for the development of biomedical Raman spectroscopy, the Vinci of Excellence (France, 1995) for development of the single atom laser, the Lamb Medal of the Physics of Quantum Electronics Conference for the first experimental demonstrations of superradiance and the microlaser and for pioneering applications of optics to biological physics, and the OSA William F. Meggers Award (2008) “for major contributions to the foundations of laser spectroscopy, and for pioneering developments in the application of spectroscopy to biomedicine.”

During his 52 years at MIT, Feld was an active contributor to the Institute community, and he was particularly proud of his work helping to develop a welcoming ambience for minority students, staff and faculty. One of the students he mentored was US astronaut Ron McNair, who received his PhD under Feld’s supervision and who coached Feld in karate. Feld earned a brown belt in karate and conducted research in the physics of karate, which garnered international news coverage.

Feld also enjoyed singing and started a group called the Spectratones, which performed at Spectroscopy Lab events.

He is survived by his wife, Alison Hearn, and three children.

A funeral service was held on April 12, 2010, in Brookline, MA. A memorial service will be held at MIT at a later date.

If you would like to make a memorial donation to the OSA Foundation in honor of Michael Feld, please visit www.osa-foundation.org/give.