Agrawal ‘stands tall’ in world of optics

Prof. Agrawal talks with student

Govind Agrawal, the James C. Wyant Professor in Optics, is praised by his students as a model scientist, supervisor, and leader—and as a supportive and inspirational mentor.

The recipient of the 2020 Hajim School Lifetime Achievement Award “stands tall on the international stage of optics and optical physics,” says Scott Carney, director of The Institute of Optics.

Govind Agrawal, the James C. Wyant Professor in Optics, joined The Institute of Optics in 1989 after a successful career at Bell Labs.

Achievement by a faculty member is measured in three key areas: 

  • Research or scholarship
  • Teaching
  • Service

Agrawal has excelled in all three areas.

He has made seminal contributions in many areas of physical optics, including lasers, fiber-optical communications, and nonlinear optics.

For example, when The European Physical Society (EPS) presented Agrawal with its Prize for Applied Aspects of Quantum Electronics and Optics last year, it cited his “pioneering and groundbreaking research that underpins a wide range of current photonic technologies in the fields of semiconductor lasers, nonlinear fiber optics and optical communication systems.” The prize is given only once every two years to recognize the “highest levels of achievements in fundamental and applied research in optical physics.”

During the last 40 years, his research “has touched on almost every area of quantum electronics,” the EPS notes.

Agrawal is author or coauthor of more than 400 research papers and eight books, two of which, Nonlinear Fiber Optics and Fiber-Optics Communications Systems have been used as textbooks worldwide. Nonlinear Fiber Optics, cited over 19,000 times, is among the top-10 cited books in physics.  His research papers have been cited more than 52,000 times.

During nearly three decades of teaching graduate students at the Institute of Optics, Agrawal has left an indelible mark. His former students describe their time in his research group as one of the great experiences of their lives. They praise him as a model scientist, supervisor, and leader—and as a supportive and inspirational mentor.

This is reflected in his William Riker University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and the Optical Society (OSA) Esther Hoffman Beller Medal for “inspiring and educating a generation of scientists and engineers.”

He has long been involved with the OSA, including service on its board of directors, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).  He is a fellow of both. Agrawal is also a highly sought speaker for international conferences, summer schools and scientific workshops, plus guest professorships and visiting lectureships.

“All of these activities attest to the importance Govind attaches to interacting with students worldwide,” Carney says.

He has also served as editor in chief of Advances in Optics and Photonics.

His other awards include the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Indian Institute of Technology; Quantum Electronics Award from IEEE, and the Max Born Medal from OSA.

“I suspect more such high honors are coming,” Carney says. “Prof. Govind Agrawal has made significant and sustained contributions in . . . physical optics as an educator and researcher over the last 40 years and has made a real impact on the life of graduate students worldwide.”