Emil Wolf, born July 30, 1922, is a Czech-born American physicist who made advancements in physical optics, including diffraction, coherence properties of optical fields, spectroscopy of partially coherent radiation, and the theory of direct scattering and inverse scattering.
Wolf was forced to leave his native Czechoslovakia when the Germans invaded. After brief periods in Italy and France (where he worked for the Czech government in exile), he moved to the United Kingdom. He received his B.Sc. in mathematics and physics in 1945, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Bristol University, England, in 1948.
Between 1951 and 1954 he worked at the University of Edinburgh with Max Born, writing the famous textbook Principles of Opticsusually known simply as “Born and Wolf”. After a period on the faculty of the University of Manchester, he moved to the U.S. in 1959 to take a position at the University of Rochester. He is currently the Wilson Professor of Optical Physics at the University of Rochester.
In addition to Principles of Optics Wolf has also written, along with Leonard Mandel, Optical Coherence and Quantum Optics, and is the author of Introduction to the Theory of Coherence and Polarization of Light and Selected Works of Emil Wolf with Commentary. Wolf is the editor of Progress in Optics, an ongoing series of volumes of review articles on optics and related subjects. Fifty volumes have been published in this series to date, all under his editorship.
Wolf’s research has focused on coherence and polarization of optical fields. He predicted a new mechanism that produces redshift and blueshift, that is not due to moving sources (Doppler effect), that has subsequently been confirmed experimentally (called the Wolf Effect). He also discovered that two non-Lambertian sources that emit beamed energy, can interact in a way that causes a shift in the spectral lines. The Wolf Effect can produce either redshifts or blueshifts, depending on the observer's point of view, but is redshifted when the observer is head-on.
At the University of Rochester Wolf and his research group investigate theories of coherence and polarization of light and inverse scattering. He has recently found solution to a classic problem in the theory of reconstruction of crystal structure from diffraction experiment; namely the determination of phases of the diffracted beam.
Wolf is the recipient of numerous awards for his scientific contributions. These include OSA’s Frederic Ives Medal and the Max Born Award, the Franklin Institute’s Michelson Medal, and the Italian National Research Council’s Marconi Medal. Wolf is also an honorary member of the Optical Societies of India and Australia and is the recipient of seven honorary degrees from Universities in the Netherlands, Great Britain, Denmark, France, the Czech Republic and Canada.
The OSA History site also features:
Video: Emil Wolf Oral History Interview
Memoir: Emil Wolf: Rembrances from students, colleagues and co-workers