FIP Pioneer Award

To recognize the dedicated contributions that researchers have made in the photonics community, the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics (FIP)has created a FIP Pioneer Award to honor these individuals.

Past Winners:


2021 Winner 

Dr. Rainer Weiss, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2017)Dr. Rainer Weiss

Rainer Weiss was born in Berlin, where his father was a doctor and psychoanalyst and his mother an actress. His father was of Jewish descent, and the family fled Nazism to the United States. After schooling in New York, Weiss studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his doctor’s degree in 1962. After a couple of years at Tufts University and Princeton University, he returned to MIT, which he has been associated with ever since. Rainer Weiss is married and has a daughter and a son.

One consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity is the existence of gravitational waves. These are like ripples in a four-dimensional spacetime that occur when objects with mass accelerate. The effects are very small. Beginning in the 1970s the LIGO detector was developed. In this detector laser technology is used to measure small changes in length caused by gravitational waves. Rainer Weiss has made crucial contributions to the development of the detector. In 2015 gravitational waves were detected for the first time.

Prize motivation: "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves." 

(Rainer Weiss – Facts. Nobel Media AB 2021. Mon. 7 Jun 2021. <>) 


2020 Winner 

Dr. Donna Strickland, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2018)Dr. Donna Strickland

Donna Strickland was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She became interested in laser and electrooptics early and studied at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She pursued her doctoral studies in the U.S. at the University of Rochester, where she did her Nobel Prize awarded work. She obtained her PhD in 1989. She subsequently has worked at Princeton University and since 1997 at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

The sharp beams of laser light have given us new opportunities for deepening our knowledge about the world and shaping it. In 1985, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland succeeded in creating ultrashort high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material. First they stretched the laser pulses in time to reduce their peak power, then amplified them, and finally compressed them. The intensity of the pulse then increases dramatically. "Chirped pulse amplification" has many uses, including corrective eye surgeries.  (



2019 Winner

Dr. Shuji Nakamura, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2014)Dr. Shuji Nakamura

Shuji Nakamura was born in Ikata, Japan.  After obtaining his B.E. '77, M.S. '79, and Ph.D. '94 degrees in Electrical Engineering at the University of Tokushima, he joined the chemical and electronics company Nichia Chemical Industries, Ltd. in 1979.  This is where he conducted his Nobel Prize awarded work.  In 1993 and 1995 he developed the first group-III nitride-based high-brightness blue and green LEDs.  He also developed the first group-III nitride-based violet laser diodes (LDs) in 1995.

Since 2000, he has been a provess of Materials and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  He is the 2019 Nobel Laureate in Physics for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.

Dr. Shuji Nakamura 2019 FIP Pioneer Award Winner


2018 Winner

Dr. Steven Chu, Nobel Laureate in Physics (1997)

Dr. Steven Chu

Stephen Chu was born in St. Louis, Missouri, into an academic family of Chinese heritage. He excelled at school and as a child liked to build models before becoming interested in chemistry experiments. He studied physics at the University of Rochester and continued his studies at UC Berkeley. There he began with theoretical physics until he realized that experimental physics was his calling. After Berkeley he did his Nobel Prize-winning work at Bell Labs. Chu served as United States Secretary of Energy from 2009 to 2013. He is married to physicist Jean Fetter, and the couple has two sons, Geoffrey and Michael.

At room temperature atoms and molecules in the air move about at breakneck speed. In order for them to be studied, they need to be slowed down or chilled. During the 1980s Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, and William Phillips developed different methods for this. When atoms come in contact with light particles with fixed energies, photons, their movement is affected as if they had been bumped. With the aid of laser light from different directions and adjustment of the photon's energy for Doppler effects, the atoms can be cooled to extremely low temperatures and captured in a trap.

Dr. Steven Chu 2018 FIP Pioneer Award Winner

 2017 Winner

Dr. Eric Betzig, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2014)

Dr. Eric Betzig

Eric Betzig was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. After first studying physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, he completed his doctoral studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He then worked at AT&T Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ. After having grown tired of the academic system, he began working for his father's company, Ann Arbor Machine Company. After commercial setbacks, he returned to science through research at his own company. Since 2005 he has been working at the Janelia Farm Research Campus, a part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia.

In normal microscopes the wavelength of light sets a limit to the level of detail possible. However this limitation can be circumvented by methods that make use of fluorescence, a phenomenon in which certain substances become luminous after having been exposed to light. Around 2000, Eric Betzig and William E. Moerner helped create a method in which fluorescence in individual molecules is steered by light. An image of very high resolution is achieved by combining images in which different molecules are activated. This makes it possible to track processes occurring inside living cells.

 Betzig Pioneer Award


 2016 Winner

Dr. W.E. (William Esco) Moerner, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2014)

Dr. W.E. MoernerW. E. (William Esco) Moerner, the Harry S. Mosher Professor of Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Applied Physics at Stanford University, conducts research in physical chemistry and chemical physics of single molecules, single-molecule biophysics, super-resolution imaging and tracking in cells, and trapping of single molecules in solution. His interests span methods of precise quantitation of single-molecule properties, to strategies for three-dimensional imaging and tracking of single molecules, to applications of single-molecule measurements to understand biological processes in cells, to observations of the photodynamics of single photosynthetic proteins and enzymes. He has been elected Fellow/Member of the NAS, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, AAAS, ACS, APS, and OSA. Major awards include the Earle K. Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy, the Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics, the Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award, the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, and the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  From 1981 to 1995, Moerner was a research staff member at IBM, and it was there that he made the first of two major discoveries that were key to his role in the Nobel-winning work.  In 1989, he used laser-based techniques to visualize a single molecule, a ringed hydrocarbon called pentacene. The accomplishment has been described as like finding a needle in a haystack the size of an NFL stadium.  "Prior to W.E.'s work, we all believed in molecules, but no one had ever seen one," said his long-time colleague in the Stanford Chemistry Department, Professor Richard N. Zare. "He was the first one to allow us to actually visualize a molecule. It opened up all sorts of new experiments in which you can see how cells divide, how the ribosomes can make proteins, and how the cells work." Moerner joined the chemistry faculty at the University of California, San Diego in 1995, and there made the second major discovery, albeit somewhat by accident. He and a colleague, Robert Dickson, were looking at cells tagged with a green fluorescent protein. Instead of staying brightly lit, the tags turned on and off, fluorescing at different wavelengths of color depending on how they were manipulated. "They are like little beacons, or flashlights, telling us where the structure is and in precise detail going far beyond the optical limit of diffraction," Moerner said.This led to an entirely new way of looking at living cells.

Dr. W.E. Moerner FIP Pioneer Award Recipient

 2015 Winner

Dr. Theodor W. Hänsch, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2005)Professor Hänsch is widely known for his seminal contributions in the field of laser spectroscopy. His early work includes the first narrowband tunable dye laser, the invention of commonly used techniques of Doppler-free laser spectroscopy, and the first proposal for laser cooling of atomic gases. Since the early 1970's, Hänsch has pursued precision spectroscopy of the simple hydrogen atom, which permits unique confrontations between experiment and fundamental theory. This work has yielded accurate values of the Rydberg constant, the Lamb shift of the hydrogen ground state, and the charge radii of proton and deuteron. More recently, he has pioneered the revolutionary frequency comb technique for measuring the frequency of light with ultrashort pulses. Exploring the quantum physics of cold neutral atoms, Hänsch and his coworkers have realized the first two- and three-dimensional atomic lattices bound by light, they have demonstrated the first atom laser that emits a continuous beam of coherent matter waves, and they have shown how to integrate a quantum laboratory for ultracold atoms on a microfabricated "atom chip". With a Bose-Einstein condensate in an optical lattice potential, they have been the first to observe a quantum phase transition between a wave-like superfluid state and a particle-like Mott insulator crystal. In 2005, Theodor W. Hänsch has been awarded the Physics Nobel Prize jointly with Roy Glauber and John L. Hall “for his contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique".

 Dr. Hansch FIP Pioneer Award Recipient

2014 Winner

Dr. Roger Y. Tsien, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2008)

Roger Y. TsienDr. Roger Y. Tsien, born in 1952, received his A.B. in Chemistry and Physics from Harvard College in 1972. He received his Ph.D. in Physiology in 1977 from the University of Cambridge and remained as a Research Fellow until 1981. He then became an Assistant, Associate, then full Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1989 he moved to the University of California, San Diego, where he is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Professor in the Depts. of Pharmacology and of Chemistry & Biochemistry. His honors include Artois-Baillet-Latour Health Prize (1995), Gairdner Foundation International Award (1995), Award for Creative Invention from the American Chemical Society (2002), Heineken Prize in Biochemistry and Biophysics (2002), Wolf Prize in Medicine (shared with Robert Weinberg, 2004), Rosenstiel Award (2006),  E.B. Wilson Medal of the American Society for Cell Biology (shared with M. Chalfie, 2008), and Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with O. Shimomura and M. Chalfie, 2008). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. Dr. Tsien is best known for designing and building molecules that either report or perturb signal transduction inside living cells. These molecules, created by organic synthesis or by engineering naturally fluorescent proteins, have enabled many new insights into signaling. He is now developing new ways to target contrast agents and therapeutic agents to tumors and sites of inflammation based on their expression of extracellular proteases, and to highlight peripheral nerves to aid surgery.

Dr. Tsien - FIP Pioneer Awardee

2013 Winner

Dr. William D. Phillips, Nobel Laureate in Physics (1997)

William D. PhillipsWilliam D. Phillips was born in 1948, in Wilkes-Barre PA, in the USA. He received a bachelor of science in Physics from Juniata College in 1970 and a Ph.D. from MIT in 1976. After two years as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow at MIT, he joined the staff of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (then the National Bureau of Standards) in 1978. He is currently the leader of the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group of NIST's Physical Measurement Laboratory, and a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, a cooperative research venture of NIST and the University of Maryland that is devoted to the study of quantum coherent phenomena. At the JQI he is the co-director of an NSF-funded Physics Frontier Center focusing on quantum phenomena that span different subfields of physics. The research group led by Dr. Phillips has been responsible for developing some of the main techniques now used for lasercooling and cold-atom experiments in laboratories around the world. Today, the group pursues research in laser cooling andtrapping; Bose-Einstein condensation; atom optics; collisions of cold atoms; cold atoms in optical lattices; quantum information processing; quantum simulation of the behavior of complex systems; and the study of cold-atom analogs to condensed matter. Dr. Phillips is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Fellow and honorary member of the Optical Society of America, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 1997, Dr. Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light."

Dr. Phillips - FIP Pioneer Awardee



2011 Winner

Dr. Martin Chalfie, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2008)

Dr. Martin ChalfieMartin Chalfie is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences and former chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University.  In 2008 he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y. Tsien for his introduction of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) as a biological marker.

Dr. Chalfie was born in Chicago, Illinois.  He obtained both his A.B. and Ph.D. from Harvard University and then did postdoctoral research with Sydney Brenner at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England. He joined the faculty of Columbia University as an Assistant Professor in 1982 and has been there ever since.

He uses the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to investigate nerve cell development and function, concentrating primarily on genes used in mechanosensory neurons.  His research has been directed toward answering two quite different biological questions:  How do different types of nerve cells acquire and maintain their unique characteristics? and How do sensory cells respond to mechanical signals? In the course of his studies, he has introduced several novel biological methods in addition to his work with GFP.

Dr. Chalfie is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Medicine, and the Royal Society of Chemistry (Hon.).  He shared the 2006 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science from Brandeis University and the 2008 E. B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology with Roger Tsien.

Dr. Chalfie - FIP Pioneer Awardee



2010 Winner  

Dr. Ahmed H. Zewail, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1999)

Ahmed H. ZewailAhmed H. Zewail was born in 1946 in Damanhour, Egypt. He received his B.S. (1967) and M.S (1969) in Alexandria, Egypt and his Ph.D. (1974) at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. He is currently Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Physics, and Director of the National Science Foundation Laboratory for Molecular Sciences (LMS) at the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Zewail has pioneered a unique methodology using ultrafast pulsed laser flashes to investigate chemical reactions down to the femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second). This groundbreaking methodology has allowed the investigation of previously unknown processes of the transition states in photochemical reactions, leading to a better fundamental understanding of molecular structures and processes. Dr. Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999 for his pioneer work on femtosecond spectroscopy. 

The outstanding scientific accomplishments of Dr. Zewail are recognized by numerous prestigious awards including:

  • King Faisal International Prize in Science (1989)
  • First Linus Pauling Chair, Caltech (1990)
  • Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1993)
  • Order of Merit, first class (Sciences & Arts), from President Mubarak (1995)
  • Leonardo Da Vinci Award of Excellence, France (1995)
  • Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry (1997)
  • Benjamin Franklin Medal, Franklin Institute, USA (1998)
  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1999)
  • Order of the Grand Collar of the Nile, Highest State Honor, conferred by President Mubarak (1999)
  • Order of Zayed, Highest Presidential Honor, State of UA Emirates (2000)
  • Order of Cedar, Highest Rank of Commander, from President Emile Lahoud, State of Lebanon (2000)
  • Order of ISESCO, First Class, from Prince Salman Ibn Abdel Aziz, Saudi Arabia (2000)
  • Order of Merit (OM) of Tunisia, Highest Honor from The President of the Republic, Zine El Abedine Ben Ali (2000)
  • Insignia of Pontifical Academy, from Pope John Paul II, Vatican (2000)
  • Order of the Two Niles, First Class, Highest State Honor, from President Omar Bashir,Republic of Sudan (2004)
  • Albert Einstein World Award, World Cultural Council (2006)
  • Othmer Gold Medal, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia (2009)
  • National Leadership Award, Merage Foundation, Washington, D.C. (2010)
  • Priestley Medal, American Chemical society (2011)

Dr. Zewail - FIP Pioneer Awardee


2008 Winner

Dr. John L. Hall, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2005)

John L. HallJohn L. Hall was born in 1934 in Denver, Colorado, and earned his PhD.(1961) degree from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University).  He had 44 good years of research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), working in laser technology, opto-electronic development and precision measurement. He is now NIST Senior Fellow Emeritus, Adjoint Professor of the University of Colorado, and an Adjoint Fellow of JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics), a cooperative institute of NIST and the University of Colorado-Boulder. Known as a preeminent laser experimentalist and innovator, Dr. Hall has contributed significantly to the evolution of the laser from a laboratory curiosity into one of the fundamental tools of modern science. He is known also for his training and mentoring of new generations of inspired physicists, several now being star researchers themselves.

Hall's work has concentrated on improving the precision and accuracy with which lasers can produce a specific frequency and the stability with which they can hold that frequency. He has helped to develop a broad range of laser advances in fields such as precision spectroscopy for physical and chemical analysis, new tests of fundamental physical "laws", measurement and redefinition of the speed of light, and other refinements in time and length metrology. These advances are represented by more than 240 publications and 11 US patents and have been recognized by more than 20 awards and prizes from professional societies, and his employer. He has received a number of honorary degrees, and became a member of the French Légion d'Honneur in 2004.
            Dr. Hall was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing this honor with Theodor W. Hänsch of the Max-Planck-Institute (Garching) and Roy J. Glauber of Harvard University. This recognition was awarded "for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, particularly the optical frequency comb technique."  The optical frequency comb can rapidly measure the frequency of another laser with extraordinarily high precision and has many broader applications in Science, Metrology and, most recently, in Diagnostic Medicine.



2006 Winner

Dr. Charles Townes, Nobel Laureate (1964)

Charles Hard TownesCharles Hard Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina, on July 28, 1915, the son of Henry Keith Townes, an attorney, and Ellen (Hard) Townes. He attended the Greenville public schools and then Furman University in Greenville, where he completed the requirements for the Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and the Bachelor of Arts degree in Modern Languages, graduating summa cum laude in 1935, at the age of 19. Physics had fascinated him since his first course in the subject during his sophomore year in college because of its "beautifully logical structure". He was also interested in natural history while at Furman, serving as curator of the museum, and working during the summers as collector for Furman's biology camp. In addition, he was busy with other activities, including the swimming team, the college newspaper and the football band.

Townes completed work for the Master of Arts degree in Physics at Duke University in 1936, and then entered graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1939 with a thesis on isotope separation and nuclear spins.

A member of the technical staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories from 1933 to 1947, Dr. Townes worked extensively during World War II in designing radar bombing systems and has a number of patents in related technology. From this he turned his attention to applying the microwave technique of wartime radar research to spectroscopy, which he foresaw as providing a powerful new tool for the study of the structure of atoms and molecules and as a potential new basis for controlling electromagnetic waves.

At Columbia University, where he was appointed to the faculty in 1948, he continued research in microwave physics, particularly studying the interactions between microwaves and molecules, and using microwave spectra for the study of the structure of molecules, atoms, and nuclei. In 1951, Dr. Townes conceived the idea of the maser, and a few months later, he and his associates began working on a device using ammonia gas as the active medium. In early 1954, the first amplification and generation of electromagnetic waves by stimulated emission were obtained. Dr. Townes and his students coined the word "maser" for this device, which is an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. In 1958, Dr. Townes and his brother-in-law, Dr. A.L. Schawlow, for some time a professor at Stanford University but now deceased, showed theoretically that masers could be made to operate in the optical and infrared region and proposed how this could be accomplished in particular systems. This work resulted in their joint paper on optical and infrared masers, or lasers (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Other research has been in the fields of nonlinear optics, radio astronomy, and infrared astronomy. He and his assistants detected the first complex molecules in interstellar space and first measured the mass of the black hole in the center of our galaxy.

Having joined the faculty at Columbia University as Associate Professor of Physics in 1948, Townes was appointed Professor in 1950. He served as Executive Director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory from 1950 to 1952 and was Chairman of the Physics Department from 1952 to 1955.

From 1959 to 1961, he was on leave of absence from Columbia University to serve as Vice President and Director of Research of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit organization which advised the U.S. government and was operated by eleven universities.

In 1961, Dr. Townes was appointed provost and professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As provost he shared with the president the responsibility for general supervision of the educational and research programs of the Institute. In 1966, he became Institute Professor at M.I.T., and later in the same year resigned from the position of Provost in order to return to more intensive research, particularly in the fields of quantum electronics and astronomy. He was appointed University Professor at the University of California in 1967. In this position, Dr. Townes is participating in teaching, research, and other activities on several campuses of the University although he is located at the Berkeley campus.

During 1955 and 1956, Townes was a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fulbright Lecturer, first at the University of Paris and then at the University of Tokyo. He was National Lecturer for Sigma Xi and also taught during summer sessions at the University of Michigan and at the Enrico Fermi International School of Physics in Italy, serving as Director for a session in 1963 on coherent light. In the fall of 1963, he was Scott Lecturer at the University of Toronto. More recently (2002-2003), he has been the Karl Schwarzschild Lecturer in Germany and the Birla Lecturer and Schroedinger Lecturer in India.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Townes has received the Templeton Prize for contributions to the understanding of religion and a number of other prizes as well as 27 honorary degrees from various universities.

Dr. Townes has served on a number of scientific committees advising governmental agencies and has been active in professional societies. This includes being a member, and vice chairman, of the Science Advisory Committee to the President of the U.S., Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the first human landing on the moon, and chairman of the Defense Department’s Committee on the MX missile. He also served on the boards of General Motors and the Perkins Elmer Corporations.

Dr. Townes and his wife (the former Frances H. Brown; they married in 1941) live at 1988 San Antonio Avenue, Berkeley, California. They have four daughters, Linda Rosenwein, Ellen Anderson, Carla Kessler, and Holly Townes.