Biographical Sketch


Ali Javan is the first named Francis Wright Davis Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is recognized for his leadership and original contributions in the field of, lasers and quantum electronics. He won international acclaim for his invention of the world first laser to operate continuously, at an unprecedented color purity and accuracy. He conceived the working principle of this very first original laser and predicted its potentials early in the summer of the year 1958. And while a member subsequently of the research staff at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill New Jersey, he initiated an extended research with the support of the Bell laboratories and successfully operated this original laser, in December the year 1960. The well known and the widely used, Helium Neon gas discharge laser.


This original invention is as well as the first to operate continuously, is the first to operate on the principle of converting the electrical energy in a gas discharge plasma, to a coherent and continuous wave laser light beam, and at its characteristic color purity and accuracy. The discovery attracted worldwide attention shortly thereafter. His continued contributions over the years have served, to advance frontiers of lasers in scientific investigations as well as in the applied areas in lasers. This Bio Information highlights a selected segment of his contributions.


He originally joined the MIT faculty in 1961. He initiated and organized and directed at MIT, the very first large-scale research center in lasers and quantum electronics here in the country. Many of the early breakthroughs in lasers took place at his MIT research laboratories, and in the decades in what followed thereafter. As a highlight the entire field of precision laser spectroscopy at an unprecedented resolving power and accuracy at a specially at sub-Doppler limit, has its origin in a series of original experiments performed at his MIT laboratories. As a historical note and briefly here, the very first sub-Doppler spectrum at a resolving line-breadth by factors of thousands below the then limiting Doppler-broadened limit was shown and obtained, using (originally an isotopically enriched Neon) in his well known Helium Neon gas mixture at his laboratory. The very first accurately ----frequency-stabilized laser, stabilized at the line center of a sub-Doppler spectral lineand stabilized reproducibly to within as low as several KHz at these ultrahigh frequencies was shown and took-place originally at his laboratories. His Helium Neon laser played a key role in these original experiments. And further, and over and above in laser spectroscopy at this unprecedented accuracy, the publications of these original experiments and the results drew special attention however, to the potentials of an accurately frequency-stabilized laser to serve as a possible primary time-base at these ultra-high frequencies. A potential specially highlighted in these original publications. The selected publication list in this Bio-Information gives the reference highlighting this latter. The subject of a follow on work initiated at his laboratories.




Simply who I am: Interview with Betty Blair

"For as long as I can remember, I've always been interested in science. I never hesitated to get involved in science-though I'm glad my two daughters have chosen other creative fields. It's enough to have one scientist in the family. I think my fascination for science originated in my genes. I was born with it. When I was five or six years old, I was attracted to sketches and numbers. I started thinking about mathematics from childhood. It seemed so natural to enter physics when I grew up. I had no hesitation at all. As a child, I remember playing with gadgets a lot. Once when I was about seven or eight years old, I tried to make a camera from a little box. Now when I look back at some of the things I was trying to do as a kid, I realize that many of them were impossible. Conceptually, they violated the laws of physics. But I tried anyway. Neither of my parents was involved in science. My father was a lawyer and wrote a number of books, some having to do with human rights. My mother was very artistic in spirit. I can't say that they either encouraged or discouraged me from getting involved with science. They simply didn't interfere with my interests."


"I attended marvelous schools in Tehran. I think the teachers must have recognized something in me. They provided me with a tremendous background in math and physics and pushed me to explore concepts far beyond what was offered in the curriculum. I studied at Tehran University (1947-48) and then came to the United States in 1949. It was right after the war. I started taking heavy graduate courses in physics and math at Columbia University (New York). I was able to get my Ph.D. (Physics) in 1954 rather quickly because of my strong scientific background. I studied art and music as well. I remember taking music classes at Columbia with Henry Cowell (1897-1965), quite a distinguished composer. Physics and music-you find the same spirit in both of them. That spirit is particularly evident when you listen to composers like Bach. His works are so deeply mathematical or, perhaps, you might say that mathematics is so deeply "Bachian". It's especially true when you listen to a Bach fugue or a Bach Mass in a minor key. After I received my Ph.D. , I stayed on another 4 more years as a Post Doctoral student at Columbia university with Charles Town. In the fall of 1958, I joined Bell Telephone Laboratories at Murray Hill. Four years later, I again moved. This time is from Bell Laboratory to the MIT faculty in Cambridge, Massachusetts."


"But I think I became who I am simply because no one interfered with the process. I think this spirit of creativity is in all of us. It just manifests itself in different directions. There's something immensely beautiful about physics even though it's very difficult. Take the atom-a single atom is absolutely gorgeous. Ask anybody in physics. It moves in waves. It's very dynamic. These days we can study a single atom, track it and measure it. In the early days when I went to school, it wasn't possible to see how the atom emits light and sends a blink. It's such fun! These are the things that really attract you as a physicist. Of course, hard work is part of it. The hard work is actually what makes it enjoyable and rewarding. Why do you work hard? Because there is something very beautiful at the end of the line that you're looking for. Why are my students doing what they do? To make money? Yeah, sure, it's science. We make good money. But there are other ways to make money, too. There's something much deeper to it. There's an aesthetic element. The whole thing is aesthetics."

From Azerbaaijan International Magazine Summer 1996 (4.2)


His Earlier Initiative and Contribution in a Large-Scale Space-Based Experiment of Special Significance

As a highlight in his early contributions in the 1980's, he initiated and introduced the concept for the first time of a multi-static laser radar controlled specially by accurate optical clocks of a special design, which was designed specially for use in a critically important space experimental at the time. The experiment designed-for however necessitated that the accurate optical clock maintain its exact accuracy, especially under the severe uncontrolled vibrations the micro-phonics environment of this special space experiment. Including the need for the accurate clock to maintain its exact accuracy especially under the high G's subjected to in the course of being launched into space as called for in the experiment. Yet further, the experiment he initiated demanded that the accurate optical clock subjected to these demanding requirements to operate however, at an exact accuracy by at least an order of magnitude higher than the accuracy obtainable with the available existing design, the design available for use in 'strictly quite' ground-based laboratory experiments. With this in mind, the new design as he developed and the performance of it will be specially highlighted here. A by far advanced design concept, as it made it possible to control the exact accuracy at the ultrahigh speeds needed for the conditions of the space experimentsnowhere possible with the available designs.


Towards meeting these demanding requirements, in order to develop the space-qualified design itself necessitated a large-scale undertaking. He initiated the project as called for as a part of, his outside-MIT research activities of much significance, as it shall have to be reflected in this Bio Information.


This Bio Information here at this time however, shall suffice to highlight his space-qualified accurate optical clock design at the demanding accuracy needed. The space project itself, and specially as applied to the then critically significant objectives towards which he initiated the project, is a subject of a web site he is now preparing. A link to it shall be added in a forthcoming further updated copy of this Bio information sketched here.

Briefly here, and as is reflected in the selected publications of it available, he introduced at the start of the project the new concept to control, at the ultrahigh speeds needed, the accuracy of his space-qualified optical clock as called for in the space experiment.


The design developed, controlled the accuracy needed 'sequentially' in the new ultra- high speed design. The 'Sequential Frequency Control'the special ultrahigh-speed SFC design. The details of which, and together with the performance of it highlighted in now what is given below, appears in its detailed publications of it. Reference to which shall be given in the selected publication list attached to this Bio information.


His Original Contributions in the Period Prior to Lasers, and its early Impact

His original contributions date back to the time shortly after he graduated and received his Doctoral degree in physics in 1954, in the June of that year at Colombia University in New York City. He had performed his thesis research at the Radiation laboratory at Columbia University, and then subsequently held a position as a Post Doctoral in the laboratory. With Charles H. Townes overseeing especially his thesis research originally, and subsequently as his mentor in his Post doctoral position at the time. Briefly again here and now as a historical note, Townes at the time had just successfully discovered and operated his original ammonia molecules beam 'maser' devise, operating at a microwave frequency (at k-band) at the laboratory. The work as reflected in his then well-known 1954 publication of it (with Gordon and Zeiger).

Within months-time in his Post doctoral position following his graduation, he discovered the concept for the first time of the well known three-level maser device, and developed his original formulation of it. The effect as applied for the first time to a three-level system subjected resonantly to an applied microwave radiation field, inducing inverted energy states in the three-level system.

And hence gain and amplification effect at a microwave frequency at the inverted energy states. Again has a historic note the well-known three-level maser device discovered independently not long after by Nicholus Blumbergen at Harvard University.

However, in his original formulation he discovered a strictly new radiative effect again for the very first time showing that, it can be possible to induce gain and amplification effect resonantly in a three-level system in the absence and without inducing inversion in the energy states in the three level system, which was the very first time that the effect had been shown possible in the absence of inversion. The new effect as reflected in his well-known publication in 1957 (The Physical Review) a work that attracted much attention at the time, and the precursor of a class of effects shown subsequently in resonantly coupled three-level systems at the optical frequencies. The well-known Lasers Without Inversion, the LWI effect.

And yet in this same period following his work in three-level maser systems, he discovered and introduced for the first time the concept of stimulated Raman effect. And showed how it will be possible to obtain gain and amplification effect in the Raman transitions again in the absence of inversion at the Raman transition. In a related and yet different area, his publications investigating a class of resonant multi-photon transitions (published in Journal de Physic also in 1957), predicted what is now known as the resonant Raman transition. One that can be induced in coupled three-level systems predicted in this his original formulation of it. Much of his original work in this period have found their counter-parts subsequently at the optical frequencies.

And then in the summer of 1958, while in transit from his Post doctoral position at the Radiation laboratory at Columbia to join in the research staff at the then Bell Telephone Laboratories at Murray Hill in New Jersey, he discovered and developed his formulations of his gas discharge Helium Neon laser device.


Prof Javan and pioneers in Lasers at Quantum Electronics and Coherent Light Meeting, Varenna On Lake Como, Villa Monastero 19th-31st August 1963 (Italian Physical Society - Proceedings of the International School of physics: Enrico Fermi).




For his original invention of the Helium Neon gas laser and his scientific contributions:

•        Fredrick Ives Medal of the Optical Society of America in 1975

•        He was awarded the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1964.

•        Fanny and John Hertz Foundation Medal and award in 1966.

•        Recipient in 1993 of the Albert Einstein World Medal of Science of the World Cultural Council foundation.

•        He was elected a Guggenheim Fellow in 1966.

•        Humbolt Foundation fellow and Awardee in 1979 and again in 1995.

•        He was named an Inductee in 2006 of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation

•        He is a Fellow of National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of American Academy of Art and Sciences, and an Honorary Associate Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences. He is also an Honorary Associate Fellow of the Trieste Foundation for Advancement and Freedom in Sciences, and a long-term member of Sigma Xi Society.

Prof. Ali Javan received the "Albert Einstein" World Award of Science at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City in recognition to his more than 30 years of research into the physics of lasers (1993).

Inauguration of the Willis E. Lamb Award for Laser Science and Quantum Optics in 1998. (Left to right: Ali Javan, Paul Mandel, Marlan Scully, Willis Lamb, and Olga Kocharovskaya)

Prof. Javan at the LaserFest kick-off program at the National Museum of American History in Washington DC on Febuary 12th, 2010 (From the left : Erich Ippen, Kumar Patel, Tingye Li, Ali Javan, 12th United State Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, James Gordon and John Hall)

Prof. Javan, his daugther (Maia), and guests at a dinner party in honor of Ali Javan on the occasion of the 50th birthday of the HeNe Laser (1st lased at Bell Telephone Laboratory on Dec 12, 1960) at the Sheraton Commander Hotel, Cambridge MA on December 12th, 2010. [ See "ODE to Forever Javan" Poem by Marlan Scully ]


Selected Publication List

A selected list of publications as referenced to in the text of this Bio-Information in above shall be forthcoming. It is presently being updated to cover a historical account of what has taken place in the past 5 decades.

Click for Publication List