In Memoriam: Bernhard O. Seraphin

College of Optical Sciences Professor Emeritus Bernhard Otto Seraphin, a pioneer in the fields of solid-state physics, semiconductors and solar energy conversion, died on Nov. 18 at the age of 89.

Born in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 4, 1923, Seraphin was captivated by the physical sciences as a youth after an unforgettable visit to a cloud chamber. Upon completing his active combat service in the German mountain troops, he pursued this passion by earning a master’s degree in 1949 from Friedrich Schiller University of Jena (Germany) and a doctoral degree in 1951 from the Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany).

After graduation, Seraphin worked as a physicist for Siemens-Schuckert’s research laboratory until 1956. He then led the semiconductor physics laboratory at the Brown Boveri Co. in Baden, Switzerland, for three years, before immigrating to the United States in 1959.

Upon arrival in the U.S., Bernhard Seraphin joined the Michelson Laboratory at the China Lake Naval Ordnance Test Station/Naval Weapons Center as the civilian head of the semiconductor physics branch of their research department. Here he conducted much of his groundbreaking work in solid-state physics and materials science, developing the revolutionary technique of electroreflectance and earning a reputation as the world leader in modulation spectroscopy. His research on the optical properties of materials, in fact, led to the establishment of the "Seraphin coefficients" in 1972.

In 1970, at the invitation of Director Aden B. Meinel, Seraphin relocated to Tucson, Ariz., to become part of the faculty of the University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center (now the College of Optical Sciences). With the turn of the decade came a global energy crisis, and both Meinel and Seraphin focused their attention on developing efficient solar energy technology. While leading research projects and advising more than 20 Ph.D. students, Bernhard Seraphin also authored articles and founded journals, edited books and traveled the world as an advocate of science and solar energy. He retired from the Optical Sciences Center in 1989 after 20 years’ service.

In 1994, in celebration of Seraphin’s 70th birthday, the well-regarded “Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells,” formed in part from a journal he had started in 1979, dedicated a full issue in his honor.  Contributors included his former employer and collaborator, Aden B. Meinel; professor of materials science and engineering Supapan Seraphin, his wife; and Stanford R. Ovshinsky, a prolific researcher, inventor and entrepreneur who called Bernhard Seraphin “an exemplary figure … [who] represents the best part of science.”

Bernhard O. Seraphin was a fellow of the American Physical Society. While employed by the Michelson Laboratory at China Lake, he received a Meritorious Civilian Service Award, one of the Navy’s highest civilian honors.  In 1984, he coauthored U.S. patent 4,431,708, “Annealed CVD molybdenum thin film surface,” with impacts in both photothermal energy collection and high-powered laser technology.

Bernie, as friends and family called him, was well known for his personable style, his common-sense mentorship and his active commitment to international communication and collaboration. He was also known, more informally, as an enthusiast of the outdoors, a hiker fond of the homily “he who rests, rusts!” His impact, both personally and professionally, to the OSC community and the field of optics at large cannot be denied.

Seraphin was predeceased by his brother, Ulrich. His wife and his four daughters from previous marriages survive him. In lieu of flowers or services, Bernie’s family asks that friends and colleagues celebrate him by volunteering for or making a charitable contribution to any organization supporting higher education or nature.

Bernhard O. Seraphin's official obituary can be found at Legacy.com, where a guestbook for his loved ones is also available.