OSA | Living History

Erich P. Ippen

© AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

2000 OSA President Erich P. Ippen received the S.B. in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1962, and then attended the University of California, Berkeley where he received his M.S. in 1965 and Ph.D. in 1968 in electrical engineering. He was a member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories from 1968 to 1980 where he was one of the founders of the field of femtosecond optics. He joined the MIT faculty in 1980.

Ippen is a principal investigator in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). He holds appointments as the Elihu Thomson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Professor of Physics. He is one of the leaders of RLE's Optics and Quantum Electronics Group.

Ippen and his group continue to pioneer important new areas of optics, particularly in the areas of femtosecond science and ultra-highspeed devices, inventing new methods for generating extremely short bursts of light using lasers, innovating techniques to exploit the time resolution such pulses provide, and using these new techniques to probe ultrafast phenomena in materials. He holds 12 patents including one for a mode-locked laser and one for a stretched pulse fiber laser.

Ippen’s many honors include earning MIT's James R. Killian, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to his field and to the Institute. Ippen is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, and is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and OSA. He is the recipient of OSA’s R. W. Wood Award, Charles Hard Townes Medal, and OSA's highest honor--Frederic Ives Medal/Jarus W. Quinn Prize.

Ippen was on OSA's Board from 1996-1997, was elected Vice President in 1998 and served as President in 2000. Through the years, he has been very active with OSA, serving on many awards and planning committees, including the initial History Advisory Group charged with framing the Centennial Celebration. He continues to serve on the OSA Foundation Board as well as the Presidential Advisory Committee.

So we had a major milestone in 1974 when we generated for the first time anywhere the first pulses of light that were shorter than a picosecond, and we called them sub-picosecond pulses.  And eventually, sub-picosecond became referred to as femtosecond, also because that's the next step.  Picosecond is a thousand times shorter than nanosecond, and femtosecond is a thousand – is the next step.  And so this was the beginning of the femtosecond era in optics, and that era, the development of a variety of different kinds of lasers to produce short pulses, and increasingly shorter over the years, what started as pulses that were a third of a picosecond or three hundred femtoseconds is now to the point where we generate pulses which are only a couple of femtoseconds in duration.

Eric Ippen, 2008 History Interview

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Document Created: 12 Jun 2013
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2019