Elmar Laisk
Interferometric Optics

Elmar Laisk

Brief Biography

Elmar Laisk (1907-1988) was a physics graduate from the University of Tartu in Estonia. A postwar refugee in Australia from the former Soviet Union. At first he was with the University of New South Wales and then he became a Visiting Fellow at Macquarie University where he created the experimental physics program. Besides his academic obligations he carried his own research building CO2 and Nitrogen gas lasers.

Laisk's spacious third year physics lab offered the students a range of experiments to work on. These included: the Frank-Hertz experiment, germanium diodes (fabrication and testing), the Hall effect, holography, LC transmission lines, liquid crystals, NMR, and the Stern-Gerlach experiment. The lab also included high-vacumm equiptment utilized to coat laser mirrors and to manufacture laser silica cells with Brewster windows.

'Elmar Laisk was an absolute treasure, formally at the University of New South Wales, ran a splendid experimental physics course for the third year. Elmer should have been appointed professor at the University of Hamburg after the war despite being an Estonian. Somehow he was reduced to coming to Australia as a refugee, and was employed in a lowly capacity at the University of New South Wales. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of classical physics, and delighted to demonstrate how to obtain results in the laboratory without the use of expensive equipment. We could not have done without him' (Ward 2004).

'Third year physics was a different ball game altogether... Besides a distinct jump in demand for book work and theory... had a unique added component. His name was Elmer Laisk. Elmar was from the University of Tartu in Estonia. He was a small man (apparently in his late 60s) with white hair, a crazy benevolent look, and of course spoke with a heavy accent... In a whole second floor of one of the buildings Elmer had created an experimental physics paradise for third year physicists' (Duarte 2012).

Laisk was a strong supporter of The Macquarie Science Reform Movement that transformed the degree structure of Macquarie University.


Duarte F J 2012 Laser Physicist (Optics Journal, Rochester NY)

Ward J C 2004 Memoirs of a Theoretical Physicist (Optics Journal, Rochester NY)

Additional Biographies

Ronald E. Aitchison
Frederick Chong
Angel Costela
Richard H. Dalitz
Francisco J. Duarte
Catherine P. Foley
Lloyd W. Hillman
Robert O. James
Willis E. Lamb
Ignacio E. Olivares
Brian J. Orr
James A. Piper
Arthur W. Pryor
Roberto Sastre
Thomas M. Shay
Trevor L. Tansley
Kathleen M. Vaeth
John Clive Ward
Colin E. Webb

Tunable Lasers and Quantum Optics Books

Page published on the 19th of April, 2024

Updated on the 19th of April, 2024