Andrew Forbes
University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

OSA Awards & Distinctions



Andrew Forbes Profile

Forbes studied Physics at the University of Natal (South Africa) and received his Ph.D. in 1998 in lasers/optics.  From 1999, he spent several years in a technology start-up, much of the time as Technical Director, developing a range of laser products now in use at blue chip institutes around the world, including Lockheed Martin (USA), BAE (UK), ENEA (Italy), NASA (USA) and Dassault (France).

In 2005, Forbes decided to return to more research orientated activities and joined the CSIR National Laser Centre, where he started two new research groups: first the User Facility – a set of laboratories for advancing photonics in South Africa through engagement with local universities, and later in 2007, the Mathematical Optics group, starting work on structured light both as classical and quantum states, as well as from lasers.  In 2015, Forbes joined the University of the Witwatersrand on the Distinguished Professor programme and has started a new laboratory that focuses on Structured Light and its applications. 

Forbes sits on several international conference committees and leadership panels for SPIE, OSA, IEEE, with OSA involvement having included the Publication Council, the Siegman School on Lasers Advisory Board, Chair of the Editorial Advisory Committee for Optics & Photonics News, Associate Editor of Optics Express, Guest editor for special issues of OSA Continuum and JOSA A and JOSA B, Chair of the Diffractive Optics and Digital Holography Technical Group, as well as served on committees of many OSA conferences (CLEO, FiO, ASSP etc.).  Forbes is an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, a founding member of the Photonics Initiative of South Africa, initiated the Quantum Roadmap for South Africa, and a Fellow of both SPIE and OSA.  He is reviewer for all the major physics and optics journals, serves on the editorial board of three non-OSA journals, and is an active member of various science outreach and public awareness initiatives.  Forbes holds honorary professorship positions at Stellenbosch University (South Africa), Huazhong University of Science and Technology (China), and Chiba University (Japan).

Forbes has edited and/or contributed to several books, proceedings and patents, published numerous scientific papers.  He is an active populariser of science through popular articles, television shows, and radio contributions. In 2015, Forbes won the national NSTF Photonics award for his contribution to the field over the past decade, in 2018, he was awarded an “A rating” (Internationally leading researcher) from the South African National Research Foundation, and in 2020 won the Alexander von Humboldt Georg Forster Prize and Fellowship. 

Andrew Forbes Statement

OSA is a venerable society, steeped in culture and excellence. It has arguably the best portfolio of journals to be found in optics. It is blessed with an active membership with an altruistic streak second to none; this symbiotic relationship has enabled the society to continue in its trajectory of growth. Today, more than half of OSA’s membership stems from outside of the United States—yet it is important to remember the roots of the society, where it came from, to understand the wonderful legacy we have as well as to appreciate the responsibility that this demands of the next generation of leaders.

What I will bring to the OSA Board is an international flavor as well as the time and energy to drive specific programs that address inclusivity. Here are some of my thoughts on OSA now and in the future:

Strengthening the good. There is much that is good about OSA, and we should celebrate and strengthen this. Excellent journals and periodicals, for example, are a hallmark of OSA. There are interesting dynamics here. At the people level, we have professional staff in the background supporting volunteers (editors, referees) who interact with authors. At the technology level, we have the ever-increasing demand for open access and data on demand. At the business end, we have the pressures of new journals and new publishing models. I believe this is the most critical aspect of OSA’s business and should be our highest priority.

Improving member participation. I believe that most OSA members would like to contribute in some way to the society, and need only be provided with the opportunity to do so. We can do much more to mobilize our members, as well as to make the participation in the society more inclusive and transparent. OSA is nothing without its members and volunteers, so I intend to foster an environment that makes it easier to give back to the community through OSA.

Stretching our boundaries. We have a strong society that was born from active researchers in the United States, which should not be forgotten. Now the society is more international, in a culture that transcends nationalities. What remains, then, is to formulate a strategy and implementation plan to promote optics and OSA beyond traditional boundaries. I believe it is incumbent on us to help—through advocacy—in creating sustainable programs in optics in less developed regions of the world. Sometimes a commanding external voice is enough to lift a dream to a reality. Researchers in developing countries need such a supporting voice, and they need this far more than they do OSA’s money. I would like to be the bridge to see this happen.

It is not only geographically that we must stretch. Many would consider OSA to be an “academic” society. I have made the transition from industry to academia, and can see the value proposition in OSA from both perspectives. There are many initiatives we could drive to be more inclusive, to build new partnerships, so that everyone working in optics finds a home within OSA.