Alphan Sennaroğlu

Koç University, Turkey

For contributions to the understanding of emerging infrared laser materials and the development of femtosecond laser sources.

Growing up, Alphan Sennaroğlu enjoyed strong support and motivation from his family to pursue a career in the scientific field. His father was an engineer and his mother was a doctor. Because of this, there were many scientific discussions occurring in his household. When he was in seventh grade, he read a book about less fortunate children who found fame, including renowned inventors such as Thomas Edison.  This prompted him to set up a lab in his home. His parents fully supported this endeavor and he continued to conduct experiments in his home lab until he left to attend college.

Alphan first knew he wanted to work with crystals in 1981 when he visited London’s Natural History Museum and was amazed by the variety and beauty of the crystal and mineral collection.  Near the beginning of his university career, he took a course on lasers and learned that lasers can be built using crystals. Discovering this overlap of interests, he realized that crystal lasers would be an ideal career. It has turned out well for him as he has been working in the field for 30 years now.

After completing his PhD at Cornell in 1994, he returned to Turkey and founded the Koç University Laser Research Laboratory. At the time, there was not a critical mass of people working in his field in Turkey. This made it difficult to exchange ideas and keep up with the latest discoveries and trends. Since then, many groups have emerged and research meetings and workshops are now being held regularly in photonics and lasers.

In addition to being the director of the Koç University Surface Science and Technology Center (KUYTAM), Alphan is a professor of physics and electrical engineering. He enjoys teaching because “it’s a great way to learn new things.” Over the course of his 24-year teaching career, he has taught 19 different courses and written a textbook that is still used in optics and photonics classes.

While his family played a large role in developing his interest in science, Alphan credits his PhD advisor, OSA Fellow Cliff Pollock, Ilda and Charles Lee Professor of Engineering, Cornell University and OSA Fellow Jim Fujimoto, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as his mentors. Alphan thinks mentorship is highly valuable but notes that “mentorship should not compromise independence.” He advises young researchers to team up with senior colleagues who complement their research—not the ones that do exactly the same thing—to help maintain balance between mentorship and independence.

When it comes to research, Alphan is most excited about building new and next-generation femtosecond lasers and building new laser light sources in the infrared range. He hopes that he will be able to find applications for lasers in health science which he sees as an overall trend in the field of optics and photonics as a whole. His coolest discoveries to-date were the first-time demonstration of femtosecond pulse generation from various crystalline lasers and his recent work involving ultrashort pulse generation with graphene devices.

An OSA member since he was in graduate school in 1989, Alphan says that OSA has been the most important professional society to shape his career. He has served in various volunteer roles for Advanced Solid State Lasers (ASSL) and CLEO Europe, and as a member of the Charles Hard Townes Award Selection Committee. He has benefitted, not only from these experiences, but also from publishing a significant portion of his research in OSA journals.

Profile written by Jeanette Gass