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Volume 23 / No. 1 / 2012
Cornell University
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At Cornell

Laser Focused

Frank Wise
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Applying Physics

According to Frank Wise, Applied and Engineering Physics, “An applied physics success story is, first and foremost, good physics—then physics good enough for products people will pay for.”

Over the past two decades, Wise has played a critical role in both the advancement and commercialization of femtosecond lasers. Femtosecond lasers are remarkable tools. They make pulses of light that last about 100 femtoseconds, with a femtosecond equal to a millionth of a billionth of a second. Femtosecond lasers are able to cut almost any material without heating it—if the material is living tissue, without causing any pain. These amazing devices have applications in biological sciences, medicine, advanced energy, and manufacturing.

Wise’s research group has been a world leader in recent efforts to make cheaper, more robust, and more powerful fiber femtosecond lasers, which promise to expand the adoption and use of femtosecond lasers dramatically.

On the Way to a Laser Focused Obsession

Wise’s physics career got off to a somewhat late start. It wasn’t until he went to Princeton, where he graduated with a BS degree, that he found the intellectually stimulating environment of science. He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California–Berkeley, and then went to work at Bell Labs on integrated circuit development. After two years at Bell Labs, Wise arrived in Ithaca in 1984 to begin a Cornell PhD in physics with Chung Tang. He has been at Cornell ever since.

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