J. P. Gordon was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 20, 1928. He was known for his contributions to optics and quantum electronics including the design, analysis and construction of the first maser in 1954; the development of the quantal equivalent of Shannon’s information capacity formula in 1962. With others, he also contributed to the development of the theory for the diffusion of atoms in an optical trap in 1980 and the Gordon-Haus effect in soliton transmission in 1986.
Gordon received his bachelor’s degree in 1949 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his Master’s (1951) and Doctoral (1955) degrees in physics from Columbia University. During his doctoral training period with C.H. Townes at Columbia University, Gordon worked on the design, analysis and construction of the maser. This work produced the first prototype of what later evolved into the laser (originally called “optical maser”) and became one of the most important workhorses in 20th-century technology.
In the 1960s, Gordon began his work on quantum information. Gordon’s early work was later proven by Alexander Holevo and became known Holevo’s theorem which is one of the central results in the field of quantum information theory. In 1966, he addressed the problem of measurement in quantum physics in his work with W.H. Louisell. Gordon reengaged with this topic at the very end of his career with his last paper on the subject being published one year after his death. Gordon’s work with Arthur Ashkin provided the basis for later work in the fields of atom trapping and optical tweezers.
His later work focused on the study of soliton transmission and optical fibers. In 1986, Gordon explained and formulated the theory of the soliton self-frequency shift that had been previously observed in his experiments. He also predicted and quantified the timing-jitter effect resulting from the coupling between solitons and optical amplification noise in amplified optical systems in the same year in work H.A. Haus. His most recent major contribution was in the mathematical formulation of the phenomenon of polarization mode dispersion (PMD) which is important for determining performance of fiber-optic systems.
Gordon won numerous awards from OSA. He received the Charles Hard Townes Award in 1981, the Max Born Award in 1991, the Willis E. Lamb Award in 2001, and the Frederick Ives Medal in 2002. He was elected a Fellow OSA in 1987 and an Honorary Member in 2010. He was also a fellow of the American Physical Society and a life fellow of IEEE. He became a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1985 and the National Academy of Science in 1988.