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Inaugural Optics Professorship Recipient Named

November 19, 2013

Professor Govind Agrawal, a world leader in optical communications, has been installed as the inaugural recipient of the Dr. James C. Wyant Professorship in Optics. Agrawal joined the faculty of the Institute of Optics in 1989 and is a professor of optics and physics at the University, as well as a senior scientist at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics.

This is the second professorship established by Wyant at the University of Rochester. The first honored his former professor M. Parker Givens, and is now held by the chair of the Institute, Professor Xi-Cheng Zhang.

At the installation ceremony that took place at Rush Rhees Library on Oct. 28, Robert L. Clark, senior vice president for research and dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, referred to Agrawal as “a phenomenal, off-the-charts researcher who is willing to apply his talents across research, in the classroom and in his service to the Institute of Optics.”

Clark also noted the more than 400 research papers and eight books that Agrawal has published and his work in service of the optics community. He is a Fellow of both the IEEE and the Optical Society of America, and also served on the Board of Directors of the OSA. In 2012 he received the IEEE Photonics Society’s Quantum Electronics Award. His teaching was also distinguished just this year with the William H. Riker University Award for Graduate Teaching.

At the installation ceremony Agrawal discussed his work on optical communication. “I was fortunate in the 1980s to spend seven years at AT&T Bell Laboratories working on semiconductor lasers, also called laser diodes,” said Agrawal. “At that time we were thinking we would use them for optical communications over optical fibers, for sending information; we did not realize then how much they would change society.” They are now everywhere: at check-out counters in grocery stores, in laser printers, CD players, etc.

Agrawal came to Rochester in 1989 and he used his expertise to set up a course on optical fiber communications, which he has been teaching ever since. In 2000, funding in telecommunications dried up when the telecommunications bubble burst so Agrawal looked for another area to work on. “I needed a new topic of research, so I decided to move on to silicon photonics,” he said. “But telecommunications is coming back and I’m collaborating on several projects in this area again, including one on space optical communications with NASA.”

Agrawal ended his remarks by thanking Wyant for his support of the Institute of Optics and for “being a bright light for optics.”

In his remarks at the ceremony University of Rochester President Joel Seligman reflected on Wyant’s enduring relationship with the University, as a “valuable member of the Board of Trustees, the volunteer leadership team and member of the strategic planning committee. Jim has made extraordinary contributions to optics, both at the University of Rochester and at the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Science, where he was dean and director.”

“I am delighted to support the research and teaching that takes place at the Institute of Optics,” said Wyant. “In 2001 I was honored to be able to help recognize my teacher, M. Parker Givens, by establishing a professorship in his name. He was a professor who really knew almost everything about optics and could explain it well.”

He added, “And now I am proud to have my name associated with another professorship, and through it have my name linked to such a distinguished researcher as Govind Agrawal.”

Wyant received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University and has been a visiting professor at the Institute of Optics since 1983. He also serves as a University of Rochester trustee since 2012. He is now professor emeritus at the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Science.

Wyant also continues to return to Rochester to teach optics. He has taught at the Institute’s optics summer school for 29 out of the last 30 years.

He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of OSA (Optical Society of America), SPIE (International Society of Optics and Photonics), and the Optical Society of India, an honorary member of the Optical Society of Korea, and former editor-in-chief of the OSA journalĀ Applied Optics. He was the 2010 president of OSA and the 1986 president of SPIE. He is also the co-founder of two companies, WYKO Corporation and the 4D Technology Corporation.

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