Nobel Laureate Arthur Ashkin, the ‘Father of Optical Tweezers,’ Dies at 98

IEEE also mourns the loss of Yasuto Mushiake, who developed the principle of antenna self-complementarity, and others

5 min read
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Arthur Ashkin

Nobel laureate

Life Fellow, 98; died 21 September

Ashkin was considered “the father of optical tweezers,” according to a tribute written by the IEEE Photonics Society. Optical tweezers can capture microscopic organisms with minimal harm, helping scientists study them. He was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics for inventing the technology.

Ashkin was fascinated by light since he was a teenager, according to the society’s tribute.

He served in the U.S. Army and from 1942 to 1945 was stationed at Columbia University’s radiation lab, in New York City. There he researched high-power magnetrons for radar systems used during World War II. He also pursued a bachelor’s degree in physics at the university.

After graduating in 1947, he attended Cornell, and in 1952 he received a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. He then joined Bell Labs in Holmdel, N.J., and stayed at the company until he retired in 1991.

In 1960 he began working on manipulating microparticles with laser light—which resulted in the invention of optical tweezers in 1986. He and his Bell colleagues experimented on laser propagation in optical fibers. The research formed the foundation of the field of nonlinear optics in fibers, according to the tribute.

Ashkin continued his laser research with the help of Joseph Dziedzic. In 1971 they demonstrated levitation of small particles using a vertical laser beam, with gravity acting as the restoring force instead of previous experiments’ glass cell walls or counter-propagating lasers. The duo succeeded in trapping a single atom using a laser in 1985, according to the society’s tribute.

Joseph C. Veniscofski

Railroad foreman

Life member, 67; died 15 April

Veniscofski served in the U.S. Army in Alaska before becoming a foreman for the Metro-North Railroad in White Plains, N.Y. He worked for the rail service for 30 years before retiring this year.

He enjoyed cooking and baking for family and friends, according to his obituary.

Peter Excell

Telecommunications researcher and professor

Life senior member, 72; died 13 August

Excell, who used computers to simulate telecommunications systems, developed a hybrid method that enabled the accurate modeling of a phone and a human head, according to his obituary.

At the time of his death, he was professor emeritus at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, in Wales, and an honorary visiting professor at the University of Bradford, in England.

He joined the University of Bradford as a lecturer in 1989 and 10 years later, was promoted to professor of applied electromagnetics. He taught at the university until 2007, when he joined Wrexham as head of its School of Computing and Communications. While there, he also served as dean and deputy vice chancellor.

Excell continued to teach at both universities until he retired in 2015.

He also worked as a consultant, mainly for oil companies. He assessed how hazardous radio frequencies were to flammable mixtures and explosive devices, and he provided advice about electromagnetic compatibility, according to the obituary.

According to his wife, he had a lifelong interest in steam locomotives, especially narrow-gauge industrial railways and preserved railways. Family vacations often included visits to heritage railways and railway museums, she says.

Excell graduated in 1970 from the University of Reading, in England, with a bachelor’s degree in engineering science. He received a Ph.D. in electrical and electronics engineering 10 years later from the University of Bradford.

Daniel Morton

Aviation electronic control designer

Life member, 78; died 25 September

Morton graduated with a master’s degree from Wayne State University, in Detroit. He then designed aviation electronic controls at manufacturer Bendix, which was acquired by Allied Signal in 1983 and is now a part of Honeywell. He spent his entire career at the company.

After he retired, he spent time traveling and volunteering. He loved reading books about the mysteries of the universe and the human mind, according to his obituary.

Eugene Litvinov

Power systems engineer

Fellow, 70; died 25 September

Litvinov worked for more than 20 years as chief technologist at ISO New England in Holyoke, Mass.

Born in Ukraine, Litvinov began his engineering career at Kiev’s Power Systems & Network Research Design Institute as a senior researcher and engineer. He moved to the United States in 1991 and joined ISO, then New England Power Pool, in 1992 as senior engineer. He was eventually promoted to chief technologist and was responsible for system and market solutions, smart-grid strategy, and R&D. Through his work, Litvinov improved the efficiency and reliability of the power systems used by the company. He was still working at the company when he died.

Litvinov was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences this year “for development of optimization mathematics for new electricity markets and innovative applications for electric grid control, visualization, and planning.”

He was an editor of IEEE Transactions on Power Systems. Litvinov also received several best paper awards from the IEEE Power & Energy Society.

He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1973 from the National Technical University of Ukraine, in Kiev. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in EE in 1987 from Ural Federal University, in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

ISO, in collaboration with the IEEE Power & Energy Society Scholarship Plus Initiativeand the IEEE Foundation, established a scholarship in Litvinov’s memory. The program offers money as well as work experience to undergraduate engineering students looking to pursue a career in the power industry.

Yasuto Mushiake

Inventor of self-complementarity in antennas

Life Fellow, 99; died 6 October

Mushiake in 1948 discovered the principle of self-complementarity in antennas.

“A self-complementary antenna has a geometry such that its complement (where air is replaced by metal and metal replaced by air) can exactly overlay the original structure through translation and rotation,” according to the IEEE Milestones Wiki. Self-complementary antennas, which have a nearly constant wide-range frequency, are used for TV reception, wireless broadband, and radio astronomy. The principle was recognized in 2017 with an IEEE Milestone.

Mushiake joined Tohoku University, in Sendai, Japan, as an assistant professor in 1954. There he conducted research on electromagnetic wave theory, radio propagation, and millimeter- and optical-wave transmission.

In 1956, he left Japan and became a research associate at Ohio State University, in Columbus. He returned to Tohoku University in 1960 as a professor. In 1984 he left to become president of the Tohoku Institute of Technology, also in Sendai. He retired from the school in 1989 but continued to serve as an advisor. He also advised the Matsushita Communication R&D laboratories in Sendai.

He wrote or coauthored several papers and 11 technical books. He edited and helped write the Japanese edition of the Antenna Engineering Handbook.

Mushiake received two honors from the emperor of Japan: a 1991 Order of the Sacred Treasure medal and a 1985 purple-ribbon Medal of Honor, both given to pioneers in scientific research. He also received the 1982 Medal of Honor from the Institute of Electronics, Information, and Communication Engineers.

He founded the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society’s Tokyo Chapter and served as its chair.

He was a member of several Japanese government technical committees.

Mushiake received a bachelor’s in engineering degree in electrical communications in 1944 and a Ph.D. from Tohoku University in 1954.

Donald N. Heirman

Former IEEE Standards Association president

Life Fellow, 80; died 30 October

At the time of his death, Heirman ran an electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) consulting company, which he founded in 1997 after retiring from Bell Labs in Holmdel, N.J.

He had served in the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1965 and continued his service in the Navy Reserves until 1985. He retired with the rank of commander.

He joined Bell Labs in 1985 and worked at the company for more than 30 years. He founded its Global Product Compliance Laboratory and was in charge of its major EMC and regulatory test facility. He represented Bell Labs at the American National Standards Institute and on several international EMC standardization committees.

Heirman was active in the IEEE Standards Association, serving as its 2005–2006 president and on its board of governors and as chair of the standards development committee.

A member of the IEEE Board of Directors, he also served on the board of the IEEE EMC Society, for which he led technical committees on measurements and the smart grid.

He received the 2018 IEEE Richard M. Emberson Award “for leadership and service to industry and the IEEE and for distinguished service to the development, viability, advancement, and pursuit of the technical objectives of the IEEE.”

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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University of California, San Francisco
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