Ali Javan


Ali Javan
Tehran, Iran
Associated organizations
Fredrick Ives Medal of the Optical Society of America, Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute, Fanny and John Hertz Foundation Medal


Ali Javan is a physicist working on quantum physics and spectroscopy and especially noted for his co-invention of gas laser.

Javan was born in Tehran, the Iranian capital in 1926. His parents were Azerbainaji – his father a lawyer and his mother had artistic inclinations. From 1947-48, he studied at the Tehran University and then moved to the US in 1949, where he joined Columbia University. At Columbia, Javan took graduate courses in physics and math and simultaneously took music classes with the distinguished composer Henry Cowell. Javan got his PhD in Physics from Columbia in 1954 under Charles Townes and stayed on at Columbia for four more years as a post-doctoral student researching on the atomic clock. In 1958, he joined Bell Telephone Laboratories at Murray Hill and four years later he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he joined the faculty at MIT. Javan is the Francis Wright Davis Professor Emeritus of physics at MIT.

Javan’s reseach and discovery of the stimulated Raman Effect, published in 1957 was the precursor to the Lasers Without Inversion (LWI) effect. Javan also conceived the working principle of the gas discharge Helium neon Laser in the late 1950s. In 1961, he demonstrated optical heterodyne beats for the first time. In 1964, Javan together with his thesis advisor Townes tested special relativity, that is, the relation between time and space, by using lasers. At MIT, Javan conducted research to expand microwave frequency-measuring techniques into the infrared. He also made the first accurate measurement of the speed of light. At MIT, Javan has made significant contributions to the fields of optical electronics and nanophotonics.

Javan’s most notable contribution is the gas laser, a laser in which electric current is discharged through a gas to produce coherent light. The gas laser was the first continuous light-laser. Javan co-invented this helium-neon laser along with the physicist William R. Bennett, Jr. in 1960.

Javan has received numerous awards and honors for his invention of the gas laser. Some of them include the Fredrick Ives Medal of the Optical Society of America in 1975, the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1964 and the Fanny and John Hertz Foundation Medal and award in 1966. He was elected a Guggenheim Fellow in 1966 and he was a Humbolt Foundation fellow and Awardee in 1979 and again in 1995. In 2006, he was named an Inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation. He is a Fellow of National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of American Academy of Art and Sciences, and an Honorary Associate Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences. In 2007, Javan was ranked twelfth in the list of the ‘Top 100 Living Geniuses’ by the Daily Telegraph.