Vladilen S. Letokhov



Professor Vladilen S. Letokhov, an OSA Fellow and head of the Department of Laser Spectroscopy at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Spectroscopy in Troitsk, Russia, died on March 21, 2009. He was 69 years old.

Letokhov received his Ph.D. (1969) and Doctor of Science (1970) at the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute, Moscow Region, USSR. In 1970 he organized the Department of Laser Spectroscopy at the Institute of Spectroscopy, USSR Academy of Sciences, and the following year he became the Institute’s Associate Director. He served as the Head of Laser Spectroscopy Department from 1970 until his death, and as the Associate Director for Research from 1970 to 1989. Letokhov was also a faculty member at the Moscow Physical-Technology Institute in Dolgoprudnyi, Russia, where he served as Professor of Physics from 1972 to the present and as Chair of Quantum Optics from 1986 to 1998.

During his career, Letokhov published more than 850 scientific articles and 14 monographs in the fields of laser physics, spectroscopy, chemistry, biomedicine and astrophysical lasers. Although Professor Letokhov was highly recognized for his numerous seminal papers in the areas of nonlinear propagation of laser pulses through amplifying media, self-modelocking and ultrafast optics, frequency stabilized lasers, novel laser schemes, laser applications in nuclear physics and nanooptics, he is perhaps best known for his many pioneering contributions to laser spectroscopy. He was the first to demonstrate detection of molecules by resonance ionization spectroscopy (RIS) and resonant-enhanced multiphoton ionization (REMPI). He was among the first to perform laser spectroscopy with subwavelength (i.e., nanometer) resolution. He and his coworkers suggested and developed laser control of atomic motion, leading to the trapping of atoms by the gradient dipole force as well as the formation of optical lattices. His group was the first to perform experiments on the cooling, monochromatization, collimation and reflection of atomic beams with laser radiation. He suggested and developed the field of photoselective multiphoton chemistry, which formed the basis for several practical isotope separation schemes as well as provided the means for ultrasensitive detection of trace species. He was the first to combine together the concept of photoselective excitation of vibrational states of molecules with subsequent excitation of reactive electronic states (vibrationally mediated photoselective chemistry), a powerful new tool in photochemistry.

Letokhov was a visiting professor and guest lecturer at universities around the globe, including MIT, Cambridge, USA; University of California at Los Angeles, USA; Israel Academy of Sciences; Bayreuth University, Germany; University Paris-Nord, France; Ecole Normale Superieure, France; and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, USA. He was named Regent Professor at Berkeley University, USA (1993) and T. Erlander Professor at the University of Lund, Sweden (2000). From 2001 to the present he served as a part-time Research Professor of Physics at Lund University’s Institute of Astronomy. Lund University named Letokhov as Doctor Honoris Causa in 2005.

An OSA member for 30 years, Letokhov was elected an OSA Fellow in 1976. Among his many other awards and honors were the Lenin State Prize (1978), Quantum Electronics Prize on Optics (European Physical Society, 1998), Rojdestvenskii Prize on Optics (Russian Academy of Sciences, 2001) and the Russian Federation in Science and Technology State Prize (2002).

He served as editor of Laser Sciences and Technology, Journal of Laser Chemistry, Lasers in the Life Sciences, and Journal of Nonlinear Optics, and he was a member of a number of editorial boards for journals in optics, spectroscopy and photonics. The Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) named Professor Letokhov the most frequently cited Russian scientist in all fields of science for the period 1973-1988.

Letokhov is survived by his wife, Dr. Tiina Karu.