Emil Wolf, 1922-2018

In Memoriam: Emil Wolf, 1922-2018

June 02, 2018

Emil Wolf, 1978 OSA President and Honorary Member, passed away on 2 June 2018.  Wolf was known for his research in physical optics, including diffraction, coherence properties of optical fields, spectroscopy of partially coherent radiation, and the theory of direct scattering and inverse scattering. During his distinguished career, Wolf had significant influence on advancements in optics and on graduate students, who would become future leaders within the community.
Wolf was originally from Czechoslovakia and spent time in Italy, France, and the United Kingdom during WWII. He attended Bristol University where he received his undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics, and a PhD in mathematics in 1948. Wolf worked at the University of Edinburgh from 1951-1954, during which he collaborated with Max Born on the textbook, Principles of Optics. Following his time at University of Edinburgh, Wolf took a position at the University of Manchester, and subsequently moved to the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA in 1959.  Wolf held the position of Wilson Professor of Optical Physics at the University of Rochester.
Wolf’s research has focused on coherence and polarization of optical fields. He predicted a new mechanism that produces redshift and blueshift, that is not due to moving sources (Doppler effect), that has subsequently been confirmed experimentally (called the Wolf Effect). He also discovered that two non-Lambertian sources that emit beamed energy, can interact in a way that causes a shift in the spectral lines. The Wolf Effect can produce either redshifts or blueshifts, depending on the observer's point of view, but is redshifted when the observer is head-on.

Wolf was the recipient of numerous awards for his scientific contributions. In 1987, he was named an Honorary Member of the Optical Society in recognition of his preeminent service in the advancement of optics.  Other recognitions include the OSA’s Frederic Ives Medal and the Max Born Award, the Franklin Institute’s Michelson Medal, and the Italian National Research Council’s Marconi Medal. Wolf was also an honorary member of the Optical Societies of India and Australia and in 2008, OSA established the Emil Wolf Outstanding Student Paper Competition in his honor. The competition recognizes the innovation, research and presentation excellence of students presenting their work during Frontiers in Optics (FiO).
Wolf was tireless advocate for young scientists, having served as an advisor to countless scientific graduates and doctoral students. Wolf remained very active in The Optical Society following his Presidential term, with service on various Awards Committees and the OSA Presidential Advisory Committee. OSA has Wolf's full biography and colleagues' comments available online.

Emil Wolf will be dearly missed by his colleagues, students, and many collaborators within the scientific community.
The OSA community mourns the passing of 1978 OSA President Emil Wolf and OSA leaders provided the following remembrances.
This is very sad news.  The end of an era indeed. Emil was a really great man, one who changed forever the optics landscape throughout the world, and I was enormously privileged to know him. Emil was a major figure in my time in Rochester and after. The discussions every lunchtime in the Rochester Faculty Club with him and Len Mandel changed my life! 
Sir Peter Knight FRS 
2004 OSA President
The Kavli Royal Society International Centre 
And Senior Research Investigator
Blackett Lab, Imperial College London

Chair of the Quantum Metrology Institute, National Physical Laboratory

Emil was a giant among us, as all of us who had the privilege to meet him soon realized. Because of our common interest in coherence and physical optics, I also have an experience about what kind of a debater he was in a scientific argument. I do share the sense of loss on that occasion of his demise. Thank you for sharing the news.

Pierre Chavel
2017-2019 OSA Director at Large 
Institut d Optique Graduate School 

I was immensely fortunate to have Emil as a teacher and a colleague at the University of Rochester. His profound knowledge of optics, his rigorous approach to science and his great sense of humour and warm personality were defining aspects of my interactions with him. An invitation to lunch was a invitation to a vigorous conversation, in which one could be sure to have ones ideas thoroughly tested, in a thoroughly friendly and insistent manner. The field has lost one of its truly great figures. His influence, through his students, colleagues and of course, his many, many books has been formative for all of us, whether or not we had the privilege to know him personally. 

Ian Walmsley FRS
2018 OSA President
Hooke Professor of Experimental Physics
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation)
University of Oxford