In Memoriam: Valentin Gapontsev, 1939-2021

October 22, 2021

Valentin Gapontsev, Optica (formerly OSA) Fellow and founder, chairman, and former CEO of IPG Photonics (IPG), passed away on 22 October at the age of 82. Gapontsev was known as a pioneer in the field of laser physics and technology and was admired for his strategic vision and business acumen that led to the commercialization of the fiber laser industry. Under his leadership, IPG became a vertically integrated business employing over 6,000 worldwide. Gapontsev recognized the value of investing in the scientific community. IPG has been a premier sponsor of Optica conferences and educational outreach programs. Examples include the Laser Congress, Siegman International Summer School on Lasers, Deutsch Fellowship, Optica Ambassadors and the Optica Foundation. Gapontsev and IPG also generously supported the Optica Foundation’s Amplify Scholarship for Black scientists beginning in 2022.

Dr. Bill Krupke, President of WFL Lasers, said "As a colleague and an IPG Photonics board member for 14 years, I came to greatly appreciate Valentin as a technical visionary, a leader possessing scientific/technical excellence, business savvy, and enduring commitment of purpose. Through his leadership, IPG Photonics truly revolutionized industrial laser materials processing." 

Gapontsev was born in Moscow and was educated at the Lviv Polytechnic National University, and received his PhD from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Following graduation, he worked at the Soviet Academy of Science as the Senior Scientist in Laser Material Physics and then Head of the Laboratory.  In 1990, he founded IPG Photonics which would become the leading developer and manufacturer of high-performance fiber lasers and amplifiers for applications ranging from communications to entertainment to biotechnology. IPG is a global company with manufacturing facilities in USA, Germany, Russia and Italy. It has regional sales offices in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Gapontsev held over 100 patents and was the author of more than 200 scientific papers.

Gapontsev was recognized with numerous awards during his distinguished career. In 1999, Optica honored him with the Paul F. Forman Team Engineering Excellence Award. The award recognized his work in creating new optical fiber laser and amplifier products, his many engineering publications in the field of optical fibers and his engineering management achievements evidenced by the founding of the IRE Polus Group. In 2009, the Laser Institute (LIA) awarded him the Arthur L. Schawlow Award, and in 2010, SPIE included Gapontsev as one of their Laser Luminaries based upon his substantial contributions to lasers. He was also recognized with the Russian Federation National Award in Science and Technology in 2011. The following year, Gapontsev was made an Optica Fellow for his “technical leadership in developing high power fiber lasers and vision and business leadership in commercializing high-power fiber lasers.”

Gapontsev was dedicated to his family and beloved by his colleagues at IPG. He will be remembered as a brilliant scientist, passionate entrepreneur, mentor and friend. Gapontsev will be dearly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.

Gifts in memory of Dr. Valentin Gapontsev may be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital in support of Gapontsev Family Endowed Chair in Surgical Oncology. Gifts can be made online to Dr. Motaz Qadan's Liver and Pancreas Research Fund 230899 under the line “Designate this gift to a specific program or area.”

He was a celebrated Optica member due to his many years of service to the society and the field of optics and photonics. Optica and the scientific community mourn the loss of Valentin Gapontsev.