OSA | Living History

Elsa Garmire

Elsa Garmire, a future OSA President and a pioneer in nonlinear optics, in the lab at the California Institute of Technology, circa 1969.

OSA Awards & Distinctions



1993 OSA President and Honorary Member Elsa M. Garmire served as the Sydney E. Junkins Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College, USA, until her retirement in 2016.  She received an A.B. at Harvard and Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), both in physics. As a graduate student working with Charles Townes at MIT, Garmire demonstrated important nonlinear effects produced by powerful laser beams acting on atoms and molecules. During her career Garmire’s research has focused on a range of topics from nonlinear optics to quantum electronics. She has patented devices to enhance optical communications including lasers, waveguides, and detectors.

Garmire spent her early career at California Institute of Technology as a senior research fellow. Following a couple of years in industry Garmire joined the University of Southern California where she became William Hogue Professor of Electrical Engineering, Professor of Physics, and Director of the Center for Laser Studies. In 1995 after 20 years at USC, Garmire moved East to Dartmouth College where she served two years as dean of the Thayer School of Engineering.

Author of over 250 journal papers and holder of nine patents, Garmire has supervised more than 30 Ph.D. and 15+ M.S. theses. She has actively given back to the optics community through service to numerous committees and organizations. She has served on the boards of five technical journals, has organized a number of conferences and held leadership positions in the National Academy of Engineering, IEEE LEOS, APS, and OSA, and served as a representative to the International Commission for Optics.

Garmire has also advised government policy makers through service on advisory boards and panels for the Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies’ Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy. She has also worked to raise awareness of the need for technical literacy among decision makers.

Garmire is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a fellow of IEEE, OSA, APS, and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She received SWE’s Achievement Award, has been a Fulbright Scholar, and is an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa. She is the 2019 OSA Honorary Member.

Garmire was an OSA Board Member from 1983-1985 and was elected Vice President in 1991.  She served as the 1993 President of the Society and has been active on many Awards Committees.  Garmire is currently a member of the OSA Presidential Advisory Committee.  In 2019, she was named as an OSA Honorary Member.

When I first became an OSA member, there were very few female members at the time.
This was when the women’s movement was in full swing and those who believed in it went out of their way to make new opportunities available for women. It was through scientists I met through OSA that I received recommendation letters that helped me to ultimately become a tenured, full-time professor.

Elsa Garmire, 1993 OSA President

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Document Created: 12 Jun 2013
Last Updated: 18 Aug 2020