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In Memoriam: Anthony E. Siegman,

Oct 07, 2011

In Memoriam: Anthony E. Siegman, 1931-2011

SiegmanAnthony E. Siegman, a laser pioneer and OSA Fellow Emeritus who served as OSA President in 1999, died on 7 October 2011 at his home in Stanford, CA, USA. He was 79.

Tony Siegman was born 23 November 1931 and raised in rural Michigan. He received the AB degree summa cum laude after three years as a National Merit Scholar at Harvard, where he played the clarinet in the Harvard Marching Band. After two years on a cooperative plan with the Hughes Research Labs in Culver City, leading to an MS degree in Applied Physics from UCLA in 1954, he followed his former Hughes supervisor, Dr. Dean A. Watkins, to Stanford as a research assistant. He was appointed to the Stanford faculty on an acting basis in 1956 and received the PhD degree in Electrical Engineering in 1957 with a dissertation on microwave noise in electron beams and traveling-wave tubes. Shortly thereafter, he switched to work on microwave masers and parametric devices, which, after 1960, evolved into a research and teaching career in lasers and optics. He was promoted to full professor at Stanford in 1964 and retired from his Stanford position as the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Professor of Engineering in November 1998.

During his Stanford career, Siegman supervised some 40 PhD dissertations and published numerous scientific articles and three textbooks: Microwave Solid-State Masers (McGraw-Hill, 1964), An Introduction to Lasers and Masers (McGraw-Hill, 1972), and Lasers (University Science Books, 1986), which became the standard reference in the field. He was regarded by many as a true patriarch, since one of his Ph.D. students, Stephen E. Harris, continued on to his own prominence on the Stanford faculty and in turn supervised the Ph.D. of (now) Stanford professor Robert L. Byer. Byer in turn supervised the Ph.D. of (now) professor Martin M. Fejer, several of whose students have gone on to notable careers and have mentored students of their own, making four generations of academic "offspring" in Quantum Electronics and other fields. Burton J. McMurtry, another of Siegman's early PhD students, served most recently as president of Stanford's Board of Trustees.

Siegman was Director of the Ginzton Laboratory from 1978 to 1983 and again in 1998-99, and he served on numerous academic committees and as a member of the Stanford Faculty Senate and its Steering Committee. He spent sabbaticals as Visiting Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard in 1965, Guggenheim Fellow at the IBM Research Labs in Zurich in 1969-70, and Humboldt Senior Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, in 1984-85.

Siegman was an active participant in the historic first Quantum Electronics symposium at Shawanga Lodge in 1959, which marked the start of serious research into lasers. Thereafter, he began to move his research from microwaves and masers to optics and lasers. Early in his career he was Program Chair for the 1966 International Quantum Electronics Conference and Conference Chair for the 1968 IQEC, and later served as co-director of laser schools in South Korea and Taiwan. He was a member of the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board during 1974-80 and served on advisory groups for NBS, NIST, NSF, and other government agencies. He received a number of awards from major professional societies, held several patents in his field, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1973 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1988.

An OSA member since 1961, Siegman held a number of leadership roles in the Society, including service on the Publications Council (1975), Board of Editors (1977-78), Finance Committee (1998-1999), Awards Committee (1997) and the Board of Directors (1976 and 1996-2000). He served as OSA President in 1999 and was a Director at Large on the OSA Foundation Board of Directors (2003-2008). Siegman was named an OSA Fellow in 1968; he was also the recipient of OSA's R.W. Wood Prize (1980), Frederic Ives Medal/Jarus W. Quinn Prize (1987), and Esther Hoffman Beller Medal (2009).

Following his formal retirement, Siegman continued to lecture, consult, and publish in his field, including work on gain-guided optical fibers and fiber lasers. In 2010, he made a round-the-world trip on behalf of LaserFest, celebrating 50 years of laser innovation. From 1999 through 2011, he spent winters at north Tahoe, cross-country skiing daily with his wife and dogs. A campus resident, he was a founding officer of the Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders, Inc., and also served on the boards of the Stanford Historical Society and the Stanford Emeriti Council. His other interests included antique scientific instruments, opera, sailing, and snorkeling.

Siegman married the former Virginia (Jeannie) Howard in 1974. He is survived by his wife, three children, a stepdaughter and two grandchildren.

If you would like to make a memorial donation to the OSA Foundation in honor of Tony Siegman, please visit To add a personal tribute to this obituary, contact

This obituary was contributed by Jeannie Siegman and Thomas M. Baer.


Tributes to Anthony E. Siegman


I am truly saddened to hear this news. It has been a great pleasure to work with Tony on many projects. I always appreciated his direct approach. He will be missed.

Eric Van Stryland
2006 OSA President

Tony was one of those real gentlemen. He treated everyone kindly and with respect, whether young assistant professors or famous full professors. I will miss him.

Michael G. Raymer
University of Oregon, Oregon Center for Optics

I'm shocked and saddened to hear of Tony's passing.  I was an undergraduate at Harvard when I first met Tony.  He came to campus to recruit graduate students for EE at Stanford, and he was a great salesman.  He also arranged a research assistantship for me. He was a great colleague, with wonderful insight into optics.  I will miss him very much.

Joseph W. Goodman
1992 OSA President

Tony was a hero to so many of us. We see Lasers on our bookshelves.  We were inspired by his leadership in the profession as well as by his insightful approach to research. We were jealous of his eternally youthful appearance and energy.  We still reference his papers.  It won't be the same without him.

Erich P. Ippen
2000 OSA President

This is very sad news. Tony was a good friend and great colleague.  It was a pleasure to work with him on many projects.

Richard C. Powell
2001 OSA President

Big Shock! Deep Sadness! Great Loss to the Photonics Community!   We lost a pioneering scientist/engineer, a veritable leader in our field, and a Great Teacher, 施夫子, (the Great Teacher Siefucius).

Tingye Li
1995 OSA President

This is certainly very sad news and a great loss for our community.  Since my days as an undergraduate at Stanford, Tony Siegman has been a mainstay of optics and to me an ideal of a true scholar and gentleman. 

Tony Heinz
2012 OSA President

It wasn't too long ago that I had a chance to chat with Tony at an IEEE event in Malibu commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first operation of a laser.  He seemed so healthy and active that I am shocked by his passing.   As a graduate student at Cornell, I acquired his classic book, Microwave Solid State Masers, and read it cover to cover.  I still have it on my shelf.  During my career, I had many occasions to get to know him personally and we worked on several committees together.  In addition to his obvious technical genius, he was a wonderful man who will be sorely missed by many.

Richard L. Abrams
1990 OSA President

Tony Siegman was a great man, scientist, professor, and of great inspiration to many students around the world. His seminal work in Lasers will be studied over the ages.

Anderson S. L. Gomes
Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

It was an incredible shock to learn about Tony's passing.  Despite Tony's stature in the field, he had an incredible knack of making you feel at ease and welcome -- I have always thought of Tony as a "gentle giant" in our field.  Tony was clearly a dearly beloved member of our community and will be greatly missed.

Anthony M. Johnson
2002 OSA President

Many of us here in India, who were familiar with Prof. Siegman's research and have read and used his famous book on Lasers in classroom teaching, feel very sorry to learn about his sudden demise. Student communities and researchers around the world will particularly feel his absence as a great mentor and motivator for a long time. I had met him in person for the first time during the LaserFest launch in 2010 when I was introduced to him by my friend Govind (Agrawal).  May the departed soul rest in eternal peace.

Bishnu P. Pal
Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India

The passing of Tony reminds of the saying "one never forgets a good teacher."  I knew Tony only slightly, not being in the laser field, but his teaching through his book Lasers reached a worldwide audience.  This year he helped put together the OSA/CIOMP Summer School on Lasers, in Changchun, again supporting education and students.

Christopher Dainty
2011 OSA President


Being a younger and an industrial driven person in the distinguished field of contributories, let me state that I was very impressed by Tony's approachability for our very technical questions at hand. When we were discussing the correlation between M^2 and single mode fiber coupling efficiency and were looking for expert advice, Tony was by far not too high up to provide us industrial folks some elaborate support and discussion, not asking for any other benefit than staying with us in the learning loop. He even kindly came back after some time to check on us if we had understood his lesson.  In proud memory to have had a chance to meaningful to interact with the text book hero that he was.

Wilhelm Kaenders
TOPTICA Photonics AG, Germany


The news of Tony' passing was a shock. It was only a few months ago that we were interacting with him on LaserFest and the election of a new OSA Honorary Member. The laser field has lost an exceptional researcher, teacher, and colleague. He will be missed.

Anthony J. DeMaria
1981 OSA President

I have known Tony since the early 80's, when, as a graduate student, I interviewed in Stanford.  He impressed me over all these 30 years with his kindness, his love for people, his passion for science and his pioneering effort to reduce complexities in physics towards engineering models.

Christoph S. Harder
HPP, Switzerland

I was shocked to hear the news of Tony's demise. Tony had always been there, full of insights, enthusiasms and knowledge about a huge range of optics. We will miss him enormously. He influenced us all with his research papers, his wonderful textbooks, his lectures and talks.  Most of all I will miss his energy and commitment to our community. At OSA he was a great leader and mentor, and always went the extra mile. 

Peter L. Knight
2004 OSA President

It is with great sadness that I receive this news about Tony Siegman.  I have known Tony very well on both a professional and on a personal level since my graduate student days at Stanford.  Tony was my intellectual grandfather.  One of his first students was Steve Harris, my thesis advisor.  By the time that I arrived on the scene at the Ginzton Lab, one of Steve's first students, Bob Byer, had also become a professor.  The Siegman, Harris and Byer research groups were located in close proximity and there were frequent interactions among the graduate students in all three groups with Tony.  I remember Tony well from these days as a wonderful teacher who was quite generous with his time to interact with me.

During the 1990's, a decade of intense involvement on my part with the OSA, I again had the privilege of working closely with Tony.  We both served many years on the OSA Board and we served consecutive terms as OSA President in 1998 and 1999.  From this period, I remember Tony as an unselfish leader who was willing to devote considerable time and effort to give back to the optics community.

During the 2000's, I once again worked closely with Tony on the OSA Foundation Board.   Tony had an interest in non-profit development and fund raising activities.  As a result, he was a natural candidate to tap as a Board member for the newly formed OSA Foundation.  He was generous enough with his time to serve two terms on the OSAF Board.  Tony served as the OSAF Board's philosopher.  He would devote considerable time and effort to pondering the basic question of the OSAF's mission and purpose – he wrote many marvelous thought-provoking memorandums for us

In conclusion, Tony made wonderful contributions as a researcher, as a teacher, as a member of the Stanford community, and as a member of OSA community. I and all of his colleagues will greatly miss him.

Gary C. Bjorklund
1998 OSA President


How sad it is to learn of Tony Siegman's passing.

Tony was a "one of a kind"; a top-rate researcher, a superb mentor and advisor, a wonderful teacher, and a genuinely caring person.  Aside from excelling in his research, he was always ready to volunteer his time and efforts in a meaningful way when he felt that he could make a difference.  The scientific and engineering communities have greatly benefited from his volunteer work.  In particular, the optics community will sorely miss him.

I was fortunate enough to have had Tony as my PhD thesis advisor.  I will never forget his gentle nudgings that helped me along the way to my degree.  I also have had many wonderful and memorable interactions with him in the years since.  In my eyes, Tony was a hero worthy of the great respect accorded him by the community.  I was pleased to be able to express my gratitude to him in a talk at the celebration of his 70th birthday held at Stanford University.  Tony was an exceptional human being, one who will be fondly remembered by all who knew him well. 

Simply put, he was the best!

John E. Bjorkholm
1992-1996 OSA Treasurer


Tony Siegman's career spanned the 50 years of the laser, from helping organize the first Quantum Electronics Conference in 1959 to presiding with Tom Baer at the LaserFest celebration at the Smithsonian in 2010.  His contributions to research and teaching during this long period are strikingly diverse.  No one working with lasers can be without his book.

Paul Kelley
Tufts University


I became so sad when I received the news today. Tony was such a special person in my life and such a dear, dear friend whom I admired so much. He was also my first company investor and Advisor.

I had the privilege of working with Tony as my Ph.D. supervisor, but I also and literally owe my life to Tony. On my first year at Stanford, one day I missed one of his early morning classes and Tony asked his secretary to look for me. They found me fainted in bed, in the room that I was renting in Palo Alto. I had fainted during my sleep due to an internal hemorrhage. According to the doctor at the Stanford Hospital, another few hours or so and it would have been too late to recover. Tony, other professors and student friends kept providing class notes to me while I was recovering, and I was able to complete all exams and receive my M.Sc. diploma at the same time that my colleagues did. 

Tony was truly my mentor, and he was continuously coming up with new creative ideas almost every day, often disruptive, always sharp and full of fun. I learned so much from him on science, on critical thinking and on human nature. He was a wonderful gentleman.

Years later, in my teachings at the University of Porto, in Portugal, I told this story to my students so that they would value attending classes and pay more attention to each person, likely more than they were used to. Following Tony´s example, I was also able to develop wonderful friendships with students.

I will miss Tony forever.

José A.R. Salcedo
Multiwave Photonics


I had the pleasure of working with Tony Siegman for the past several years on the subject of gain guided index anti-guided lasers.  When we demonstrated lasing in such a fiber that was far from his initial predictions, he went back, reviewed his work and realized the explanation.  As a consequence, we were able to show single mode oscillation from such a fiber laser with core diameter of 400 microns.  This was a record then and remains so.  With Tony's insight and theoretical guidance, the work was a pleasure.  He was a great colleague and will be missed by the whole community.

When his book Lasers came out, I was one of those asked to review it.  I was delighted with it then and remain so today.  It is an excellent book that has been and will be of great value.

Michael Bass, OSA Fellow
CREOL, The College of Optics and Photonics,
University of Central Florida

I knew Tony from the time I was a graduate student. Essentially 50 years of friendship were book-ended by he and I hosting Charlie Townes at an IEEE-LEOS event in Palo Alto a couple of years ago.

As with everyone else, I taught lasers from his book, and eagerly awaited his second book, for which he prepared camera-ready copy, years before it was easy to do.

Tony was a real gentleman, and active to the very end, particularly through the Past Presidents committee, where his sage advice was always on-target.

One of my students posted a query on-line through one of the optics students sources and was very surprised and impressed to receive an answer from Tony, himself. His respect for any and all was almost unparalleled. This is a heart-breaking loss to the lasers and optics community.

I wish his family all the best.

Elsa Garmire
1993 OSA President

I am very shocked by this sad news!

I visited Tony several months ago at Stanford and had a great time with him. He showed me the new Ginzton building, took me to lunch, and gave me a copy of my Ph.D. thesis he had been keeping since my graduation from his group. As always he was sharp, knowledgeable, and kind - a true gentleman, scholar, and teacher! We were talking about getting together again ...

Tony helped me tremendously during my Ph.D. studies at Stanford, and with getting my career started.

Yan Sun
OSA Fellow

This is very sad news and a painful loss to us all.

I had contact with Tony for 50 years, and I learned a lot from him, his books and his publications. Close to my field, I have always admired his powerful and sophisticated analysis of the diffraction losses of unstable laser cavities. It was one of his many milestone accomplishments.

As Elsa Garmire said, this is a heart-breaking loss to the lasers and optics community.

Herwig Kogelnik
1989 OSA President

I first met Professor Siegman in April of 1975. I was then a senior at Kansas State University majoring in EE. I asked our physics department head the best place to study lasers in graduate school. He suggested I apply to Stanford, University of Arizona, UCLA, and University of Illinois. I said, "Where's Stanford?". I applied to all and was accepted to all. I flew out to visit Stanford that April. Prof. Siegman was kind enough to spend time with me and show me around the laser labs. It was an exciting place, so Stanford is where I went!

I was honored to take Lasers I and II from Professor Siegman. His laser lab (run by Bob Byer as I recall) was pretty dang exciting. Professor Siegman was always available to help me with homework issues. I appreciated that very much.

I regret I did not return to campus to visit Prof. Siegman, but I did get to see him speak at LaserFest in San Jose last year at the CLEO conference.

I was shocked and saddened to hear of his sudden passing. I will always remember him fondly.

John C. Mein
MSEE 1976 from Stanford

Tony Siegman, despite being retired officially, helped me tremendously during my PhD thesis on tunable lasers at Ginzton Lab. It was a blessing to hear his clear explanations and simple elegant solutions to what appeared to me at first as cluttered technical challenges. He was a mentor to many, even after his well-deserved retirement.

Christophe Antoine
MS EE 2004, PhD EE 2007

Meeting Tony only recently, I was even more shocked about this news, since I remember him being so lively when we discussed some internal reflection of a novel laser device just a few months ago. But apart from his scientific excellence, what really impressed me was his sunny and joyful charm - it just felt great being around him.

In warmhearted memory,
Volker J. Sorger
OSA Member & Chapter Leader


I was devastated to hear the news of Tony Siegman's death. He was simply the nicest person I've ever met. A quiet, thoughtful man you could always turn to for advice both technical and personal. I first met him in 1957 when he was working on noise in travelling wave tubes with Prof. Dean Watkins at Stanford, and I was working on the same problem with Prof. John Whinnery across the Bay in Berkeley. I later joined the Hughes Research Laboratories, and my interests changed to lasers and optics, just as Tony's did. He leaves an incredible legacy in his research and books, but most of all in the students he inspired who are now the leaders in the field. I've always looked forward to working with Tony over these many years in the Society affairs and organizing conferences, most recently on the LaserFest 2010 Committee. I will greatly miss his smile and gentle humor.

William B. Bridges
1988 OSA President


Tony Siegman was a great friend, a first rate scholar and a real gentleman. He will be sadly missed.

Colin Webb
Emeritus Fellow and former Director at Large of OSA


When I received the sad news of Prof. Sigman's passing I was deeply depressed.

I looked up to Prof. Sigman since nearly two decades and was very glad to meet him in person five years ago.

Interestingly, a couple of his scientific findings are vital in research fields beyond optics and photonics. Prof. Sigman's talent for straightforward numerical modeling (e.g. within the context of the Hankel transform) will remain unique.

Gunter Laux
University of Heidelberg, West Germany


Awards & Distinctions

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