Robert Williams Wood was born in Concord, Mass., May 2, 1868, and is best known for explaining the black-light effect. He earned chemistry degrees from Harvard and the University of Chicago. He taught physics at the University of Wisconsin from 1897 until 1901, when he became professor of experimental physics at Johns Hopkins University. He studied problems of diffraction and interference and produced blazed echelette gratings for infrared radiation.
He did much work on ultraviolet light as well as fluorescence. He invented the first filter for ultraviolet light that excluded all visible light. Wood did much to advance infrared and ultraviolet photography. He also developed the first practical liquid mirror telescope by spinning mercury to create a paraboloidal shape. His text Physical Optics became the most widely used book on the topic. It was reprinted in 1988 by OSA.
Wood received many honors including the Royal Society’s Rumford Medal, the National Academy of Sciences’ Henry Draper Medal, the Franklin Institute’s John Scott Medal, OSA’s Frederic Ives Medal, and a Gold Medal from the Italian Society of Science.
He served as president and vice-president of the American Physical Society and was a member of numerous organizations including the Royal Society, London Optical Society, Russian Academy of Science, National Academy of Sciences, Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Philosophical Society. Wood died August 11, 1955.
In 1975, OSA established the R.W. Wood Prize to honor the many contributions that he made to optics. This award, presented annually, recognizes an outstanding discovery, scientific or technical achievement, or invention in the field optics.