Daniel S. Chemla

In Memoriam: Daniel S. Chemla

March 20, 2008

In Memoriam: Daniel Chemla, 1940-2008

Daniel S. Chemla, an OSA Fellow Emeritus renowned for his contributions to the materials sciences, nanoscience and synchrotron science, died on March 20, 2008 at his home in Kensington, California.  He was 67.

Chemla had been director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Materials Science Division and of the lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS).   He also held an appointment as a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Born in Tunisia in 1940, Chemla received his undergraduate degree at l'Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications in Paris, France, and his Ph.D. in non-linear optics from the University of Paris in 1972. He worked at the Centre National d’Etudes des Télécommunications as a member of the technical staff, group leader and department head conducting research on nonlinear optics in dielectric materials, organic molecules and crystals, and compound semiconductors.

In 1981, Chemla joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, NJ, where he initiated research on optoelectronics in semiconductor quantum wells and superlattices.  He became Head of the Quantum Physics and Electronic Research Department in 1983.  In 1991, he accepted a joint appointment as Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley and Director of Materials Sciences Division and in July, 1998, he was named Director of the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  He is credited with saving the ALS from loss of federal support and with making it one of the nation’s premier scientific user facilities.

His achievements leading the lab's nanoscale work led the Department of Energy to select the Lawrence Berkeley Lab to open the first of five Nanoscale Science Research Centers in the nation. It was dedicated two years ago, and Dr. Chemla named it "The Molecular Foundry."

According to a biography released by UC Berkeley, Dr. Chemla stepped down as head of the Materials Science Division in 2003 to concentrate on leadership of the ALS, but after suffering a stroke and other health problems the next year, he retired from the helm of the ALS in 2005. He continued leading a major research group at the Berkeley lab until recently.

Chemla was elected as a Fellow of OSA in 1989.  He was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Physical Society.  He received OSA’s R.W. Wood prize in 1988, and in 1995 he received the IEEE/LEOS Quantum Electronics Award and a Humboldt Research Award.  In 2005, on the occasion of his 65th birthday, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Cachan, France.  Also in that same year, the journal Chemical Physics published a special issue entitled "Molecular Nanoscience — In honour of Daniel S. Chemla on his 65th birthday".

Dr. Chemla was internationally known as a martial arts expert - a study he began as a teenager. He was a fifth-degree black belt in karate and translated the "Karate-Do Kyohan," the widely accepted karate master text, into French.  Through the years, he also started karate training in Switzerland, Israel and throughout Europe and for 50 years had pupils in America, Canada and many European countries.

Chemla is survived by his wife, Berit, and two children, Yann Chemla, a physicist at the University of Illinois, and Britt Jones, an art historian in Houston.