In Memoriam: Boris P. Stoicheff

April 15, 2010

OSA Mourns the Loss of Boris P. Stoicheff,
OSA Past President

Boris P. StoicheffBoris P. Stoicheff, an OSA Past President and Fellow Emeritus and an emeritus university professor of physics at the University of Toronto, Canada, died on April 15, 2010 in Toronto after a battle with multiple myeloma.  He was 85.

Stoicheff, who built the first ruby laser in Canada, was renowned for his pioneering contributions to Raman spectroscopy, and later to non-linear optics.  He was the first member from outside the US to be elected OSA President (1976).

Stoicheff was born in Macedonia, then part of Yugoslavia, and emigrated to Canada with his family as a young child.  After earning a B.A.Sc in Engineering Physics (1947) and a PhD in Molecular Physics (1950) from the University of Toronto, he received a Gilchrist fellowship that enabled him to remain in Toronto for a year to perform Raman scattering experiments at low pressures.  Stoicheff then went to the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, Canada to continue his work on Raman scattering in a lab headed by Gerhard Herzberg, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1971.  Stoicheff later wrote Herzberg’s biography, Gerhard Herzberg – An Illustrious Life in Science.

Stoicheff remained at the NRC from 1951-1964.  He spent a sabbatical year in 1963 working with Charles Townes at MIT, and he then joined the University of Toronto as a professor of physics (1964).  He retired in 1989, although he continued to perform research.

Throughout his career, Stoicheff served on numerous Canadian and international technical committees, including the Board of NRC, Quantum-Electronics Council, Council of Professional Engineers of Ontario, Ontario Nuclear Safety Review Committee, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, the Royal Society of Canada, and Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.  

An OSA member for nearly 50 years, Stoicheff was very active in OSA’s publications efforts, serving on the Board of Editors and Publications Council in the late 1980’s and early 1990s.  He also served on several award selection committees, and at the time of his death he was a member of the OSA Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC).

Stoicheff was elected an OSA Fellow in 1964.  He received OSA’s William F. Meggers Award (1981), the Frederic Ives Medal/Jarus W. Quinn Endowment, OSA’s highest honor (1983), and the OSA Distinguished Service Award (2002) “for exceptional volunteer service to OSA over three decades, including the Presidency, the Board of Directors, the Publications Council, the Society Objectives and Planning Committee, and various other committees.”

Stoicheff was also the recipient of many other awards and honors.  He was appointed University Professor in 1977 and Officer of the Order of Canada (1982), and he was elected Fellow of numerous societies including the Royal Society of London, Royal Society of Canada, American Physical Society, Geoffrey Frew Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and Foreign Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and Indian Academy of Sciences.  He was awarded the Centennial Medal of Canada (1967), the Gold Medal of the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Henry Marshall Tory Medal of The Royal Society of Canada, as well as several honorary degrees.  Stoicheff was the author and co-author of more than 150 papers on lasers, optics and spectroscopy.

Boris Stoicheff is survived by his wife, Joan, a son, Peter, two grandchildren, and four sisters.

A memorial celebration of his life will be held at Massey College at the University of Toronto in May, 2010.

If you would like to make a memorial donation to the OSA Foundation in honor of Boris Stoicheff, please visit


Tributes to Boris P. Stoicheff

When Boris served as OSA President in 1976, OSA’s budget was $1M, Optics News was published 6 times/year and Optics Letters was in the planning stages of its initial publishing. Boris contributed significantly to OSA’s growth during his remarkable half century of membership.  He was a strong supporter of the OSA Foundation and of the Society’s outreach efforts to optics and photonics communities in developing countries, and he remained an active participant in the Past Presidents’ advisory committee despite his illness.  Boris was one of the Society’s great leaders and he will be missed.

Elizabeth A. Rogan
OSA Chief Executive Officer

I was truly taken aback by the sad news of the passing our friend and colleague Boris Stoicheff. I fondly recall years ago being invited to give a seminar at the University of Toronto and being invited by Boris to share part of an evening with him and his wife. This was a wonderful evening with the charm and warmth that we have come to know from Boris -- I have never forgotten this decades old event! Boris was a giant in our field and will be truly missed by many!

Anthony M. Johnson
2002 OSA President

Boris Stoicheff was not only a most distinguished scientist, but also
a most distinguished and admirable human being. No one who had the
good fortune to know him was ever anything but delighted to encounter
him, anywhere and any time, and we will all feel deeply the loss of
these opportunities in the future.

Tony Siegman, Stanford University
1999 OSA President

He was truly a kind gentleman.  The first time he met me years ago, he spent the entire day showing me the University of Toronto and took me to both lunch and dinner. It made a big impression on me as to how to treat visitors. He will be missed.

Eric Van Stryland
2006 OSA President

I am so sorry to hear this very sad news. Boris was a real gentleman in the best possible sense. A lovely personality, with a superb sense of taste in what was important, and someone who achieved so much in his life. He was a fellow of the Royal Society here in London and acted as our Canada Correspondent and the Society will really miss him. I first worked closely with him in organizing a Discussion Meeting on Quantum Optics at the RS where he was able to persuade key speakers to attend who, with amazing uniformity, went on to win Nobel prizes: an example of his exquisite taste. He hosted me several times in visits to Toronto with style (and introduced me at least to the joys of Martinis).

Peter Knight
2004 OSA President

It is with great sadness that I have lost my colleague and friend, Boris Stoicheff. Although Boris and I never worked together on research projects, his style and grace in science and life has had a profound influence on me during the 35 years I have known him. Quite often, when confronted with a difficult situation, I would simply ask myself ‘what would Boris do?’ It is in no small part due to his encouragement that I have become deeply involved with the OSA through conference program and steering committees, and most recently as Editor of JOSA B.

Henry van Driel,
University of Toronto

It won’t be the same without him.  His influence on the field was enormous –through scientific inspiration, thoughtful leadership and personal graciousness. Just a few weeks ago he sent insightful and entertaining reminiscences about early laser experiments.  He had high standards and yet always made them seem reasonable and fun to try to achieve. A true gentleman.

Erich Ippen
2000 OSA President

Boris was a visiting professor when I was a graduate student at MIT (along with Ray Chiao) working with Dr. Townes.  Boris brought to us the concept of using a Fabry-Perot to measure high resolution Brillouin spectra.  It is because of him that we were able to make the first measurements of Stimulated Brillouin Scattering.  He brought to us a unique combination of excitement over technical issues, a clear and precise scientific approach, and a patience with inexperienced graduate students.  With his passing it seems like the end of an era.  There were few like him.

Elsa Garmire
1993 OSA President

This is truly sad news. To all of us he was not just a great scientist but a wonderful human being, full of joy and insight, and a true gentleman. We will sorely miss him.

Herwig Kogelnik
1989 OSA President