Mr. Vice-Chancellor, in the name and by the authority of the Senatus Academicus, I have the honour to present for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science


Emil Wolf was Born in Prague, and came to Britain in 1940.  He entered Bristol University in 1941, graduating B.Sc. in Mathematical Physics in 1945, and Ph.D. in Physics in 1948.  His Ph.D. research was on the characterization and design of aspheric optical systems, and after it he spent three years at the Cambridge University Observatory working on the properties of high-performance optical systems.

 In 1951 Wolf came to Edinburgh, to assist Professor Max Born in the translating and updating of Born's 1933 Gerrnan-language textbook Optik.  At least, that was what Born had intended.  But what emerged - somewhat to his surprise and occasional dismay - was a great new treatise, The Principles of 0ptics, an altogether larger and more ambitious work than Born had projected, and which took much longer to write.  When Born retired in 1953, with the book far from complete, Wolf was appointed to a lectureship in mathematical physics; a year later he left Edinburgh.  In 1955 he was awarded an Edinburgh D.Sc. degree for his contributions to optical-cohemnce theory.

 Optical coherence has been the leit-motif of all Wolf's subsequent work - nor does this prescribe a narrow field.  When The Principles of Optics finally appeared in 1959 it presented the theory of coherence as "a theory of optics in terms of observables"; as such it was ripe for quantization, and this process, to which many others contributed, produced the long-awaited theory of quantum optics.  Wolf and his growing research school at the University of Rochester in the United States, and his evolving network of collaborators worldwide, contributed to the developing understanding of the interactions between laser light and matter, for which his work had provided many essential tools.

 In the 1970's Wolf made striking advances in the recondite field of optical radiometry, and then in the early 1980's he solved the long-standing - because mathematically difficult - problem of formulating coherence theory in terms of the spatial and spectral properfies of the light-field, as a powerful alternative to his earlier spatio-temporal formulation.  This advance was at once important to workers in non-linear optics, but its most profound consequence to date has been Wolf's prediction in 1986 that the spectrum of a radiation field may change as it propagates - even in the vacuum of interstellar space.  Careful experiments have validated this prediction, and the study of its implications, in Rochester and elsewhere, is being watched with excitement and some apprehension.

 Wolf's influence on the development of optical physics, and on our insight into optical phenomena and the characteristics of light itself, have been unequalled in this century: The Principles of Optics by Max Born and Emil Wolf - of which Wolf wrote by far the greater part - is the most important book on optics since the publication of Fresnel's Oeuvres Completes in the 1860's; indeed it is one of the great landmarks in the literature of optics in the last four hundred years.

 Professor Wolf has been an outstanding trainer of research workers, and a fine teacher of undergraduates - though some of them are less impressed by his optics than by the glossy picture of the popstar Olivia Newton-John on his office wall, inscribed "To Emil, with love - Olivia".  What they don't know is that Olivia Newton-John is Max Born's grand-daughter.  She may even have an autographed copy of "the book"!

 Wolf's pre-eminence amongst living optical physicists is unquestioned.  Past President of the Optical Society of America, Frederick Ives medallist of that Society, Albert A. Michelson medallist and Franklin medallist of the Franklin Institute, Fellow of learned Societies in America, Europe and Asia and Honorary Doctor of the University of Groningen, he is, after 45 years of brilliant research, as active and creative as ever.

 We welcome back our distinguished alumnus and former colleague.  I now invite you, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, to confer on Emil Wolf the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

emil wolf and vice-chancellor edinburgh 1990
from a photo by the University's photographer
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