Australian and New Zealand
Optical Society    

Prof. Jim Piper  served on the founding committee of the Australian Optical Society, and as its President in 1984-1985. Jim was a pioneer of applied laser physics in Australia. He conducted internationally-recognised research in metal-vapour lasers, dye lasers, solid state lasers, Raman lasers, and applications of lasers in medicine, sensing, and materials processing. 

After completing his BSc (Honours) in 1968, and PhD in 1971, at Otago University in New Zealand, Jim’s early career built on his postdoctoral research in gas laser physics at the University of Oxford. In 1975, he moved to Australia, taking a position at Macquarie University, where he continued his research in lasers and their applications for the rest of his life.  

Jim was awarded the Pawsey Medal from the Australian Academy of Science (1982), the Walter Boas Medal from the Australian Institute of Physics (1984), the Australian Optical Society Medal (1997) and, in 2016, Life Membership of the Australian Optical Society (now Australian and New Zealand Optical Society). In 1994, he was named a Fellow of the Optical Society of America (now Optica) for his contributions to the physics and technology of metal vapour lasers and their frequency conversion, and the development of laser and optical physics in Australia.
Jim was very active in the Australian optics community, serving on the founding committee of the Australian Optical Society, and as its President in 1984-1985. He brought the International Quantum Electronics Conference to Australia for the first time in 1996. In 2010, Jim was invited by the Australian Optical Society to give public lectures around Australia for LaserFest, the Laser’s 50th Anniversary, speaking on “Applications of Lasers in Medicine” based on highlights from his own research. As President of Science and Technology Australia (2015-2017) he restructured the organisation’s membership to be more inclusive.

Jim was the Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Special Research Centre for Lasers and Applications (1988-1996) and subsequently Chief Investigator for two ARC Centres of Excellence (Centre for Ultra-high-bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems and Centre for Nanoscale Bio-Photonics).  A world-class researcher, Jim authored over 400 journal articles and hundreds of conference papers, and his research continued to flourish during his retirement.

Jim’s passion for research that makes an impact led to his contributions to ARC policy for funding of large-scale research infrastructure and industry collaborations.  He was involved in several laser start-ups, and he was an inventor on more than 20 patents. His award in 2006 of a Carnegie Lectureship and an honorary D.Sc. from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland also recognised his research excellence in lasers and laser applications.
Jim’s perceptive and strategic advice was highly valued by his students and colleagues, and he had many international collaborators. An enthusiastic teacher, he founded the degree of Bachelor of Technology in Optoelectronics, which provided well-trained graduates for local tech companies for over two decades.  Jim mentored over 50 PhD students, many of whom established highly successful careers in research, industry, and education.

In his later career, as Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Research (2003- 2013), Jim established his vision for Macquarie University as a strong Australian research university with an international outlook. In recognition of his exceptional leadership, in 2013 Macquarie University established the biennial Jim Piper Award for Excellence in Research Leadership. His 2014 award of Member of the Order of Australia for “significant service to tertiary education, particularly through research in applied laser physics”, is a fitting acknowledgement of his contributions to the tertiary education sector, but he is also remembered for his kindness and warmth. One of Jim’s enduring legacies is the many people he mentored.

Judith Dawes

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