In Memoriam: Stephen "Steve" Frank Jacobs

    Date Posted: 
    Wednesday, February 27, 2019

    Professor Emeritus of Optical Sciences Stephen F. Jacobs passed away at the age of 90 on Sunday, February 24, 2019. Steve came to the Optical Sciences Center (OSC) in 1965—at the request of Aden Meinel for a laser scientist to join himself, Roland Shack and Bob Noble in Tucson. Steve will be remembered for his dedication to teaching and his creative ways of sharing his excitement for optics.

    “We all have very fond memories of Steve,” said Thomas Koch, dean of the College of Optical Sciences. “In addition to his enormous contributions to the early days of laser physics and the field of Quantum Electronics, he was an energetic and influential contributor to the early foundations of OSC. Steve’s many innovative contributions to scientific outreach in optics over the years were also appreciated by all.”

    Born October 1, 1928, Steve grew up in New York City (NYC). His path to a career in optics began as an intense need to understand the world around him. He received a B.S. in Physics from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Upon graduation, Steve accepted a position with Perkin-Elmer Corp. in Norwalk, Connecticut where, as an optical physicist, he worked on exciting projects such as the Baker-Nunn Tracking Camera.

    After four years at Perkin Elmer, Steve began looking for a new job. He always considered himself lucky when, at a Physical Society meeting in NYC, someone introduced him to Gordon Gould of the Technical Research Group (TRG). Gordon was looking for a spectroscopist to help demonstrate his 1957 teachings—How to Build an Optical Amplifier. Along with Paul Rabinowitz, they succeeded in measuring light amplification in 1961 and in building a laser oscillator in 1962.

    By 1965, Aden Meinel, director of OSC, was hiring faculty with diverse backgrounds and a broad range of expertise. Steve became OSC’s first “laser man in the desert.” With the invention of the laser, came a flood of new developments in the field of Quantum Electronics. By the late 1960s, there was much to be learned, but no formal courses. Recognizing this need, Steve and Marlan Scully—then at MIT—organized a series of two-week schools that evolved into advanced Physics of Quantum Electronics (PQE) workshops and technical progress reports. Marlan handled the marketing and designed the technical programs. Steve and his wife, Kathy, managed the logistics for fun and profit. They were the first to discover the winning combination of learning, skiing and the opportunity for participants to interact with funding agencies.

    With the success of the PQE workshops, Steve’s notoriety in the optics community grew. “In the early 1970s, it seemed that no one in optics was better known than Steve,” said Professor Emeritus James C. Wyant. “Steve and Kathy’s hospitality to faculty recruits and visiting scientists was legendary, and Steve became instrumental in bringing huge talent to OSC—such as Marlan Scully and Peter Franken.” As a Fellow of The Optical Society (OSA), Steve served as president of the Tucson Section and on many committees—including the Publications Committee, the Program Committee and the Fellows Committee. He was involved with OSA’s journals as well—serving on the Editorial Board and the Patents Panel for Applied Optics.

    But, Steve’s real devotion was to his family. His son Tom remembers the entire family engaged in regular summer or winter adventures. “Whether it was sailing the Long Island Sound, skiing the Italian Alps, hiking the Grand Canyon or exploring the uncharted wilds of lower Baja California and the Boojum forest, my dad was a relentless explorer and avid naturalist—with his family always by his side through it all.” Steve embraced his Sonoran Desert home with enthusiasm—raising cacti, boojum trees, olives, desert flowers and many other strange and exotic desert flora. He instilled a love of the desert in all of his children and grandchildren—hence, they all still reside in Tucson.

    Steve died peacefully at home, just as he had lived—in the close and loving embrace of his family. He is survived by his wife, Kathy; his three children, Henry, Thomas and Jane; six grandchildren, Stephen, Rebecca, Sarah, Joseph, Rosalyn and Celyn; and his sister, Judith Rosen, 93, of Alexandria, VA.

    In memory of Steve, his family and the College of Optical Sciences respectfully offers a Remembrance Ceremony in his honor on Friday, March 22, 2019, 3:00-6:00 pm, Franken Conference Room (Meinel 821). In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting memorial donations be made to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

    (A more complete biography of Steve can be found in Reflections: Stephen Jacobs, and his 90th birthday interview can be found in Reflections: Special Birthday Edition.)

    - Tammy Orr, February 27, 2019