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OSA | Living History

Kenneth M. Baird

OSA Awards & Distinctions

Kenneth M. Baird was born in China in 1923. He received a BSc. in physics from the University of New Brunswick in 1943. Baird then joined the Canadian National Research Laboratories where he did research on serial reconnaissance photography and high speed cinephotography, earning himself full National Research Council (NRC) financial support for graduate study at Bristol University in England where he earned a Ph.D. in solid state physics.

On his return to the NRC in 1951, Baird directed Canada’s primary length standard facilities for the transition of the International Meter from a prototype metal bar to a wavelength of light. His research on isotope lamps, perturbations to wavelengths and interferometry (including the development of the world’s first interference comparator for meter bar calibration in terms of standard wavelengths) placed Canada among the main contributors to the redefinition of the International Meter in 1960.

Baird also maintained Canada’s primary standard of mass as well as length, and standards for quantities derived from them, such as density, pressure, vacuum and certain engineering standards. For much of this work Baird engaged the industrial community, producing results such as design of the first commercially produced internal reflector laser and an important optical interference device for the security of valuable documents.

Through their work on the International Meter Baird and a small team of researchers also achieved the following:  one of the first demonstrations of saturated absorption spectroscopy, development of the technique of transition – difference generated frequencies in spectroscopic wavelength and frequency measurements, and the first measurement of the frequency of visible light (in collaboration with the U.S. National Bureau of Standards).  Baird and his colleagues also played a major role in redefining the International Meter in 1982.

Baird’s research made him one of North America’s foremost metrologists.  He published over 50 scientific papers and held 5 patents. He was president of the International Commission for Optics a member of the I.A.U. and chairman of its working group on wavelength standards. He was also a member of the International Advisory Committee for the Definition of the Meter, serving as chairman of its steering committee for the redefinition of the meter in 1982.

Baird was an OSA fellow and member or chairman of several technical groups and policy committees. He was a member of OSA’s Board of Directors and was awarded its C.E.K.  Mees Medal. He was also a member of the Canadian Association of Physicists and chairman of its Optical Physics Division.

After retiring from the NRC in 1982 Baird was a visiting fellow at Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics (University of Colorado) and in 1983 was a visiting scientist at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Sydney, Australia.

Baird lives in Ottawa.

Document Created: 12 Jun 2013
Last Updated: 2 Jul 2019