Interferometric Optics

James A. Piper

Brief Biography

James Austin "Jim" Piper (1947-2023) was a noted New Zealand-born Australian physicist and inventor. He received a BSc (Hons) in 1968 and his PhD in 1971, both from the University of Otago.

Following his doctoral research in atomic physics, pivotal and crucial in his early career, was his appointment (1971-1975) as Research Fellow of the Clarendon Laboratory at the University of Oxford. At Clarendon he performed pioneering research on discharge hollow-cathode lasers (Piper, Collins, and Webb, 1972) and high-power pulsed copper vapor lasers (Piper and Webb, 1975). A highlight in this research was the development of a CW white-light laser via a He-CdI2 hollow-cathode discharge where numerous Cd ion and I ion transitions combined to yield a most impressive coherent beam of bright white light (Piper, 1976). Subsequently, he also developed miniature multi-wavelength hollow-cathode lasers (Tsuda and Piper, 1989).

In 1975 he assumed a professorship in the School of Mathematics and Physics at Macquarie University where he rapidly continued, and expanded, his research on hollow-cathode lasers and pulsed copper lasers in conjunction with local graduate students. This research began to bear fruit in the late 1970s - early 1980s. At this stage, he began to develop high-average-power copper vapor lasers (CVL). Thus, Australia began to contribute within a highly selective field where the only other participants were nations such as the United States, the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

Notable in this effort was the discovery of efficient, extremely pure emission, tunable narrow-linewidth hybrid multiple-prism grazing-incidence (HMPGI) grating oscillators (Duarte and Piper, 1981). This work led directly to the development of CVL-pumped narrow-linewidth tunable lasers for atomic vapor laser isotope separation (AVLIS) (Duarte and piper, 1984). At the time, the only other sources of published literature in this field were The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the USA and one of the top laser laboratiries in the former Soviet Union. Significant national research efforts in AVLIS, in various other countries, adopted the dispersive HMPGI tunable laser configurations developed at Macquarie.

As a young professor, Piper openly supported the Macquarie Science Reform Movement that in 1979 transformed the degree structure of the university, via the introduction of science degrees, and thus opened the door to decidedly strenghten the sciences at Macquarie.

His research soon began to attract top talent from all over the world and Piper began to build a most impressive research edifice that branched into solid-state lasers, Raman lasers, nanocrystals, nanoscopy, and various other quantum optics research areas.

Hence, it is not surprising that John C. Ward, of Ward Identities fame in quantum electrodynamics, observed: 'under Jim Piper... Macquarie achieved world class status in narrow-linewidth dye laser oscillators'... whilst strongly endorsing Piper's promotion to his physics chair, upon his retirement in 1984 (Ward, 2004).

Piper authored and co-authored some four hundreds refereed publications and successfully supervised more than forty PhD students. Supported by the timely and crucial change in the degree structure at Macquarie (1979), Piper played a central role in significantly augmenting and strengthening the physical sciences research infrastructure of the young university (founded in 1964). Piper himself introduced a BTech degree in 1992 and a Master of Research in 2012.

Of course, Macquarie University incorporated him into its administrative ranks where Piper amply excelled. He retired as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), in 2013. Following his retirement he continued active participation in several highly-regarded Australian R&D institutions. He did so in various leading capacities being recognized as an towering figure in Australian science.

Piper was elected Fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics in the 1980s and Fellow of the Optical Society of America (now Optica) in 1994. He received numerous other honors and awards including the Pawsey Medal (1982), the Walter Boas Medal (1984), and the W. H. Steel Medal (1997).

Besides his inherent gift for experimental laser physics, Piper exercised an exquisite command of the English language. This ability is beautifully exhibited in many of his physics papers that in the late 1970s, and early 1980s, were carefully crafted via double-spaced cursive writing in linearly ruled paper pads. His impact transcended the sciences: his approachable demeanor made many friends in the arts, humanities, and across the academic spectrum.

Cover of Optics & Photonics News (October, 2003), featuring a review article on organic tunable lasers, showing an image of the Macquarie experiments.


Duarte F J, and Piper J A (1981). Prism pre-expanded grazing-incidence grating cavity for pulsed dye lasers. Appl Opt 20 2113-2116.

Duarte F J, and Piper J A (1984). Narrow-linewidth high prf copper-laser pumped dye laser oscillators. Appl Opt 23 1391-1394.

Piper J A, Collins G J, Webb C E (1972). CW laser oscillation in singly ionized iodine. Appl Phys Letts 21 203205.

Piper J A, and C E Webb (1975). A TE copper iodide laser. IEEE J. Quantum Electron 11 917.

Tsuda H, and Piper J A (1989). Practical small-scale hollow-cathode CW metal-ion lasers. J Phys E: Sci Instrum 22 462-465.

Piper, J A (1976). Simultaneous cw laser oscillation on transitions of Cd+ and I+ in a hollow-cathode He-CdI2 discharge. Opt Commun 19 189-192.

Ward, J C (2004). Memoirs of a Theoretical Physicist (New York: Optics Journal).

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
Roberto Sastre
Thomas M. Shay
Kathleen M. Vaeth
John Clive Ward
Colin E. Webb

Tunable Lasers and Quantum Optics Books

Page published on the 2nd of August, 2023

Updated on the 24th of August, 2023