Arthur H. Guenther

In Memoriam: Arthur H. Guenther

April 21, 2007

OSA Mourns the Loss of Arthur H. Guenther

Arthur H. Guenther, passionate advocate for the optics & phonics community, died on April 21, 2007 at his home in New Mexico.

An OSA Fellow and long-time member, Guenther worked tirelessly on behalf of education, international outreach and pubic policy.

“Art's death is indeed a sad marker of time passing. We'll miss the big friendly personality he brought to OSA, which was a valued part of his creative energy and enthusiasm,” says Joseph Eberly, 2007 OSA President.

Guenther was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Distinguished Senior Executive Award—the highest award for career civil servants—presented by President Ronald Reagan.

“I remember Art fondly from many years of serving with him on various IEEE and OSA Committees. He gave unselfishly an immense amount of his personal time to society activities. He also was very generous to the OSA Foundation,” recalls Gary Bjorklund, Chair OSA Foundation.

In 2002, he received OSA’s David Richardson Medal, awarded for pioneering contributions and continued leadership in the study of laser-induced damage of optical materials, and for exemplary guidance in enabling the infrastructure for technical optics development. He has served on OSA’s Public Policy Committee, QELS Program Committee and Finance Committee.

Anthony Johnson, 2002 OSA President, remembers, “I first met Art at an OSA Annual Meeting in the early ‘80s. The OSA Reception overlapped with Halloween and Art appeared as the Caped Laser Man -- I've been a great fan of Art's ever since! We have indeed lost a wonderful colleague.”

Guenther earned a BS in Chemistry at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, before going on to Penn State University to earn a PhD in Chemistry/Physics. He served in the US Air Force ROTC Program while at Rutgers and after graduation from Penn State, was assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base in 1957. He then transferred to the civil service, spending 15 of his 31 years in the US Air Force as Chief Scientist of the USAF Weapons Lab. He also served as the Science Advisor for three different New Mexico Governors and held positions at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories.

He was elected to the Russian Academy of Science, URAL Division, for his work in enhancing communication between the Soviet Union and the United States in optics as well as other fields. He also served as President of the International Commission for Optics under the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) which represents 34 nations and territories worldwide.

“Art will be very fondly remembered and honored not only by all of us in the US and OSA optics communities, but by a much larger community all around the world who know at first hand how much he contributed to the international and Third World optics communities through his inspired leadership of the ICO,” recalls Tony Siegman, 1999 OSA President.

Guenther was Research Professor Emeritus in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of New Mexico and was recently appointed Senior Science Advisor Emeritus at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).

His passion for optics education led him to be part of many international optics education programs and projects for middle/high school students.

Art Guenther was in large part responsible for CREOL getting control of its academic program by heading up our external advisory committee and writing a letter to our president stating that we should become a School of Optics. That then happened in 1998 which eventually led to our status as a college. His name sits prominently at the top of our Affiliates Board in our lobby,” says Eric Van Stryland, 2006 OSA President.

Guenther adored his family, loved the outdoors, travel, theater, sports, music, fine wine and jokes, and will be missed by his family, friends and colleagues. He is survived by his beloved wife of 52 years, Joan; two daughters, Tracie and Wendy and their husbands; two granddaughters; and two sisters.

The viewing will be held at French's Mortuary at 7121 Wyoming Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, Thursday, April 26, 2007 from 6-8 p.m. A funeral Service to celebrate his life will be held Friday, April 27, 2007, at 10:00 a.m. at the East Chapel at Kirtland Air Force Base (enter through the Gibson Gate by Louisiana; please bring a picture ID to gain access to the base). In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Art's name can be made to NM MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) c/o Pamela Caudill, 2808 Central SE, ABQ, NM 87106 or a technical society of your choice.

Tributes to Art Guenther

Statement from Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)


This event occurred shortly before I received my PhD from Penn State. I was one of a group of 4 graduate students (along with Harold Bennett, Jack Shearer, and Ernie Shull) and one young professor (or postdoc) Tom Wiggins who were working in the infrared spectroscopy laboratory of Dr. David H. Rank. All the graduate students worked on joint projects and many papers were being published. None of us had a specific research project. We all worked on whatever project Dr. Rank dreamed up. Often we would come in in the morning and learn that Dr. Rank had an idea for something new that he wanted done instantly. So we hopped to it!

The main projects were measuring the rotation-vibration absorption spectra of diatomic and polyatomic gas molecules in the near infrared (1 to 3 microns). The ones being studied when I was there were primarily HCN and methane. The gases were put into a long sewer pipe that had glass plates waxed to each end. A 100 watt zirconium arc lamp was the light source. After the light passed through the absorption tube, it went through a slit into another large room containing a grating spectrometer – Littrow mount with a large Bausch and Lomb plane diffraction grating (one of the original “transfer gratings” made by David Richardson) and ~ 12 inch diameter collimating and focusing mirrors. A photomultiplier detector was used for visible spectra and a lead sulfide cell for the near infrared spectra. The lead sulfide cell, which had been developed by the military during World War II, had been recently declassified at that time, making possible much more sensitive measurements than were previously possible with an infrared bolometer or thermopile. The readout was a Brown strip chart recorder with ink pens which spewed out reams of paper as the grating slowly rotated. One of the students was supposed to constantly monitor the strip chart record to make sure that the pen didn’t run out of ink, the paper didn’t come to the end of the roll, or some other problem occurred. The zirconium arc, sewer pipe, and strip chart recorder were in a large room along with student and faculty desks, electromechanical Monroe, Marchant, and Frieden calculators, tables for laying out the chart records, and other equipment. (The room containing the diffraction grating, mirrors, and detectors was painted black and kept closed unless someone had to go in briefly to adjust something.)

On the day of Art Guenther’s visit, I was monitoring the strip chart recorder and was the only person in the room. Dr. Rank was elsewhere. There were no signs to indicate where one was to walk, but we all knew not to pass between the arc lamp and sewer pipe. Art was making his first visit to the laboratory to set up an interview with Dr. Rank to see if he could work in the spectroscopy laboratory the following fall. He had previously been working in a chemistry group but his project there hadn’t worked out. I was the only person Art saw when he entered the large, cavernous subbasement of Osmond Laboratory, so he walked over to my desk by the most direct route which was between the arc lamp and the sewer pipe. I was doing some calculations on a Monroe calculator, dimly aware of the background noises of the pumps, chart recorder and other equipment. Then I heard a sharp noise as the strip chart recorder pen dropped to zero. I looked up and saw a strange person walking right through the light beam. I yelled at him in a loud voice, “GET OUT OF THE LIGHT BEAM.” He immediately retreated!

I received my PhD in August 1955 and left Penn State, while Art started working for Dr. Rank in the fall, so our times in the infrared spectroscopy laboratory didn’t overlap. Art and Dr. Rank got along very well together, since they had similar personalities. Art had great respect for Dr. Rank and came to all subsequent special occasions in Dr. Rank’s life. Also, Art never forgot the indignity of being yelled at, and reminded me of the incident nearly every time we met in later years.

An Art Guenther story from graduate school by Jean Bennett
Spring 1955, Penn State, University Park, PA


"Art was a good friend for half a century. We actually met in June of 1957. He had completed his PhD with David Rank at Penn State in one of the finest spectroscopy groups, and gave a paper on his thesis work at the Molecular Spectroscopy Conference in Columbus, Ohio. I, too, gave a paper on the same molecules. When we had finished, Earl Plyler, that southern gentleman who happened to chair the session, waxed eloquently, saying "How wonderful it was that two young scientists from different countries using different spectroscopic techniques, one infrared, the other Raman, would come up with the same molecular constants and structures: that was what good science was all about." Art and I raised many a glass to this memory over the years at OSA and ICO Meetings. About 8 years later, he invited me to the Air Force Weapons Lab to give a colloquium on my laser research, and then gave me a large, ruby crystal with ends beautifully polished as an honorarium; a much valued gift which my group used over the years. Art was a very special and kind friend, who will be sadly missed by all of us."

Boris Stoicheff
1976 OSA President


“Art was a remarkable person who was a person of unlimited good will and a friend to everybody!”

Bob Shannon
1985 OSA President


“We have lost a friend.  We will miss him.”

Susan Houde-Walter
2005 OSA President


"This is very sad news.  Art was a very precious friend to a large number of us all over the world."

Herwig Kogelnik
1989 OSA President


“After the war I returned to graduate school at Ohio State under the GI Bill and graduated in the early 1950s. I then joined the new Air Force Cambridge Research Labs at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass. AFCRL and the MIT Lincoln Lab were more or less continuations of the war-time Radiation Labs of Harvard and MIT. Our optics group was mostly infrared graduates from Ohio State and Johns Hopkins. Being part of the Air Force, we had one other source of bright young physics graduates: those ROTC students at land grant universities, who after graduating had to serve a stint of active duty at some Air Force base. (At land-grant colleges ROTC was mandatory, at some other schools it was only optional, but taking ROTC reimbursed some of the tuition costs.) So we had a useful source of fresh talent, via these bright young officers. At AFCRL we had acquired John Garing, Russ Walker, Ernie Loewenstein, Jack Salisbury, and probably even Jerry Izatt and A.T. Stair, all as young second lieutenants. Most of them stayed on as civilians after their 18 month tours on active duty.”

“ By the late 1950s I was head of the optics division; and one day around 1959 I had an agonized telephone call from Art Guenther at Penn State. He told me he had just finished his degree in infrared spectroscopy under Dave Rank, and working with Tom Wiggens and King McCubbin, and the Air Force had just told him they were going to send him to active duty at the weapons lab at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, the AF nuclear research facility! He didn't want to do nuclear research; couldn't I get him transferred to AFCRL, where he could continue to work in infrared?  He even later drove up to Cambridge to repeat that plea personally.”

 “Well, I tried; I made some phone calls to Washington, and I wrote some letters; but once orders have been written in the military it is awfully hard to get anything changed; so my efforts were to no avail. Lieutenant Art Guenther went to Albuquerque.  But he soon found that things weren't really all that bad; there were some optics problems, and he was just about the only one there with any optics training. And two or three years later the laser arrived on the scene, and the Weapons Lab even began talking about laser weapons!  Within a half-dozen years Art went from a branch chief to a division chief and then to Chief Scientist!  (And later also to science advisor to the governor.) So he was very lucky that my efforts to get him the right job failed.”

John Howard
1991 OSA President


“This is really sad.  He was a very special person.”

Joe Goodman
1992 OSA President


“This is sad news for OSA and the optics community.  My contact with Art was on committees, boards, and conferences, where he could always be counted on for sound judgment and hard work.”

Richard L Abrams
1990 OSA President


"I am saddened to hear the passing of Art Guenther. He was a notable and ardent volunteer in the optics community. He had a great sense of humor which I enjoyed, wherever I saw him at meetings in the US or abroad. We will miss him."

Tingye Li
1995 OSA President


I would like to take this belated opportunity to say a few words about  Dr. Guenther, or Art as I knew him in 1959-61.  I was a member of the  USAF team at Kirtland AFB in 1959-61, at the same time as Jasper  Welch, Lew Allen, Frank Vada, Chuck Erinfreid, Duncan Dodds, et al. I  was an airman assigned there as a Math Aide in the Physics  Laboratory's Pulsed Power Lab. We did a lot of exploding wires, etc.

I  had just graduated from college with my BS in Math & Chemistry. At the  same time the ban on Atmospheric Testing of Nuclear Weapons was  eminent and the laboratory was looking for ways to simulate high-altitude nuclear detonations. We were gaining in the area of  Spallation Studies. This was as much an education for me as attending  college was. I was exposed to great persons doing great things which I  had never heard of before.

Dr. Guenther was always full of fun. He and others in the office loved  to play bridge at noon. It was routine over their "brown bag" lunches. I remember he was full of kindness. When I left to go to USAF Officers  Training School to gain a commission he spearheaded giving me a  memento to remember them by. I was presented with a pewter beer stein  with a glass bottom. It was engraved from the Laboratory.

I went off to officer training and on to flying training and only once  afterwards did I stop by Kirtland Air Force Base to see my old buddies.

Much later, I was able to renew friendship with two of the other  persons that I served with there at the Physics Division; Lew Allen  and Jasper Welch who were by then general officers in the USAF.

I am sorry to hear of the passing of Art Guenther. He was one of the  great persons that I was privileged to know during my career in the  USAF.

James E. "Jim" Bradley, Lt Col USAF (Ret)


This is really sad.  He was a very special person.

Joe Goodman
1992 OSA President