OSA Fellow C. Kumar N. Patel was born in Baramati, India on 2 July 1938. He received the B.E. from the College of Engineering in Poona, India and the M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1959 and 1961, respectively.
Patel joined the Bell Laboratories in 1961. Where he eventually held the title of Executive Director, Research, Materials Science, Engineering and Academic Affairs Division at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ, USA.
Patel's discovery, in 1963, of the laser action on the vibrational-rotational transitions of carbon dioxide and his invention, in 1964, of efficient vibrational energy transfer between molecules, led to his series of experiments which demonstrated that the carbon dioxide laser was capable of very high cw and pulsed power output at very high conversion efficiencies. No other laser has made a greater impact on society.
In 1966, Patel began pioneering studies which created a new field of infrared nonlinear optics which led to his 1969 invention of the spin-flip Raman laser, a class of tunable infrared lasers and the first tunable Raman laser in any wavelength region. Using this laser, he carried out very high resolution spectroscopy of both ground and vibrationally-excited states of molecular gases, resulting in his contribution to the problem of atmospheric pollution detection. In 1970, he developed a tunable laser opto-acoustic measurement technique for extremely small concentrations of pollutant gases. In 1973, he carried out the first measurements of the temporal variation of concentration of nitric oxide in the stratosphere, which provided crucial data bearing on the problem of ozone depletion by man-made nitrogen oxide emission from sources such as the SST. His opto-acoustic spectroscopy studies of cryogenic liquids and solids, begun in 1980, are providing crucial data in understanding these materials and have culminated in the first observations of high vibrational over-tone absorption of molecular hydrogen in solid hydrogen. Patel's current research interests include spectroscopy of highly transparent liquids and solids, and surgical and medical applications of carbon dioxide lasers.
From 1993-1999, Patel served as Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was also Professor of Physics and Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering. Today, he works for Pranalytica Inc. in Santa Monica, CA, USA.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Patel the National Medal of Science, "[f]or his fundamental contributions to quantum electronics and invention of the carbon dioxide laser, which have had significant impact on industrial, scientific, medical, and defense applications. In addition to the carbon dioxide laser, he also developed the "spin-flip" infrared Raman laser.
Patel has received numerous awards, including OSA’s Adolph Lomb Medal (1966); Coblentz Prize (American Chemical Society, 1974); Association of Indians in America's Honor Award (1975); IEEE Lamme Medal (1976); National Academy of Engineering's Zworykin Award (1976); OSA Townes Medal (1982); New Jersey Governor's Thomas Alva Edison Science Award (1987); Hon. D.Sc, New Jersey Institute of Technology (1988); George E. Pake Prize of the American Physical Society (1988); OSA Frederic Ives Medal (1989). He received the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1989.
Patel is a Fellow of the IEEE, APS, OSA, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Association for Advancement of Arts and Sciences, the Laser Institute of America, and the American Society of Laser Medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Science.
The most exciting moment was creating the first carbon dioxide laser to produce more than 10 W of power late one night at Bell Labs.