In Memoriam: James A. Piper, 1947 – 2023
Jul 20, 2023
James Austin Piper, Optica Fellow and Emeritus Professor at Macquarie University, passed away on 20 July 2023. He was most known for establishing one of the first laser research programs in Australia. He conducted internationally-recognized research in metal-vapor lasers, solid-state lasers, laser applications in micromachining and medicine, and nanotechnology for sensing and imaging.
Piper earned his Bachelor of Science with honors from the University of Otago in New Zealand in 1968 and continued his studies to receive his PhD in 1971. He then took a research position in gas laser physics at the University of Oxford. In 1975, Piper moved to Australia, to a position as a lecturer at Macquarie University that would later take him to become Chair of the Department of Physics, and later Dean. Finally, as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research (equivalent to Vice-President of Research) for Macquarie University from 2003-2013, he established his vision for Macquarie University as a strong Australian research university with an international outlook.
In 1982, Piper received the Pawsey Medal from the Australian Academy of Science; two years later, he was the first winner of the Walter Boas Medal from the Australian Institute of Physics, and in 1997, the Australian Optical Society Medal. In 1994, he was named a Fellow of Optica (formerly The Optical Society) for his contributions in physics and technology of metal vapor lasers and their frequency conversion and the development of laser and optical physics in Australia.
Piper was very active in the Australian optics community, serving as President of the Australian Optical Society in 1985-1986. He brought the International Quantum Electronics Conference to Australia for the first time in 1996. In 2016 he was named a Life Member of the Australian and New Zealand Optical Society (formerly the Australian Optical Society). As President of Science and Technology Australia (2015-2017) he restructured the organization’s membership to be more inclusive. Piper was an active contributor to Optica’s technical groups, including BS Tissue Imaging and Spectroscopy, OP Photonic Metamaterials, BP Molecular Probes and Nanobio-optics, ON Nanophotonics, and BB Optical Biosensors.
Piper was the Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Special Centre for Lasers and Applications from 1988 through 1996, and was subsequently Chief (Principal) Investigator of two ARC Centres of Excellence (Centre for Ultra-high-bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems and Centre for Nanoscale Bio-Photonics). Piper co-authored over 400 international refereed journal articles and published several hundred conference proceedings. He received nearly 13,000 citations and supervised more than fifty PhD students, who have established successful careers in research, industry, and education.
Piper’s passion for research that makes an impact led to his contributions to ARC policy for funding large scale research infrastructure and industry collaborations. He was involved in several laser start-ups, and he was an inventor on more than 20 patents. The 2006 award of a Carnegie Lectureship and an honorary D.Sc. from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland acknowledged Piper’s research excellence in lasers and laser applications. In recognition of his exceptional leadership, in 2013 Macquarie University established the biennial Jim Piper Award for Excellence in Research Leadership.
Piper’s perceptive and strategic advice was highly valued by his students and colleagues, and he had many collaborators from around the world, from industry, universities, and government labs. He contributed to the International Advisory Committee for Optica, and to other international bodies. An enthusiastic teacher, Piper founded the degree of Bachelor of Technology in Optoelectronics, which provided well-trained graduates for local tech companies for over two decades. Piper’s 2014 award of Member of the Order of Australia for “significant service to tertiary education, particularly through research in applied laser physics”, is a fitting acknowledgement of his contributions to the tertiary education sector, but he is also remembered for his kindness and warmth. One of his enduring legacies is the many people he mentored.
Jim Piper was a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather, and our deepest sympathies are extended to his family.
Optica, Macquarie University, and the scientific community mourn his loss.