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Gisela Eckhardt

In Memoriam: Gisela Eckhardt, 1926-2020

January 30, 2020

Gisela Eckhardt, a pioneer in the field of stimulated Raman scattering and inventor of the Raman laser, passed away on 30 January 2020 at the age of 93. Eckhardt was known in the optics community for her research in nonlinear optics and lasers with contributions in Raman spectroscopy and stimulated Raman scattering. Her research extended into the physics of vacuum discharges. In 2016, OSA recognized Gisela Eckhardt as one of the 100 most influential people in optics over the past century.

Eckhardt was born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany in 1926 and studied physics at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. She graduated in 1952 and despite gender inequity attitudes at the time, Eckhardt would go on to receive her PhD in 1958 for heat transfer in glasses.  Following graduation, Eckhardt immigrated to the US, where she worked for the electronics group RCA in Princeton, NJ. At RCA, she applied her knowledge of infrared spectroscopy to semiconductors and to the development of semiconductor device processing methods, leading to drastically reduced defect concentrations in Si and GaAs electronic materials.

In 1960, she accepted a position at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, CA, where she pioneered research in stimulated Raman scattering and Raman lasers. In 1962, she correctly explained the unusual laser lines seen from a Q-switched ruby laser as due to stimulated Raman scattering in the electro-optic Kerr cell and then made the first demonstrations of stimulated Raman scattering in other materials such as organic liquids, diamond, calcite and Sulphur. Eckhardt developed the basic rules for selecting high gain Raman materials. The Raman laser produced laser beams at a much wider range of wavelengths and led to a new class of lasers. Eckhardt’s seminal contributions to the discovery of stimulated Raman scattering led to ubiquitous applications across many fields, including lasers, communications, microscopy, sensing and bio-imaging. She was one of only two women present at the first Gordon Research Conference on Nonlinear Optics in 1964, which gathered pioneers in the field of nonlinear optics.

In 1970, Eckhardt moved into the field of plasma research and the development of semiconductor device processing technologies using lasers at Hughes Research Laboratories. During her career, Eckhardt made significant contributions in power-electronic and radio-frequency electronic devices, authoring several scientific papers and patents in these fields. Eckhardt was an active volunteer, author, and speaker over the course of her career. She delivered the keynote address at the Europhoton Conference on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her discovery of stimulated Raman scattering, at the age of 87.

Eckhardt had a lifelong passion for science and later in life was a generous financial supporter of research. The OSA and the scientific community mourn the loss of Gisela Eckhardt.