Illinois ECE Distinguished Colloquium Series

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"Illuminating My Career - From Flash Gordon to Laser Surgery"

Event Type
Peter Dragic, ECE Assistant Professor
Location, Meeting ID: 925 7717 0383, Password: 054001
Sep 24, 2020   4:00 - 5:00 pm  
James J. Wynne, Ph.D., IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Peter D. Dragic, ECE Assistant Professor

Join us on Thursday, September 24 at 4:00 p.m. as James J. Wynne, Ph.D. from IBM T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Hts. NY, presents at the ECE Distinguished Colloquium Seminar.



As a child, I was fascinated by television programs about Flash Gordon.  His partner in conquering the universe was Dr. Alexis Zarkov, a physicist, who had invented, among other things, a death ray gun. My personal "death ray" was a magnifying glass, focusing sunlight on unsuspecting insects, like crawling ants. I also practiced sneaking up on resting, flying, stinging insects and burning their wings before they could take off and attack me.  So, I understood something about the power of sunlight.

In my senior year of high school, I had a fabulous physics teacher, Lewis E. Love, and I knew after one week that I wanted to be a physicist, not a medical doctor, which is the career my parents wanted me to pursue.

It turns out that the first laser functioned on May 16, 1960, just one month before I graduated from high school, and it was inevitable that I would pursue a career working with lasers. My first job as a physicist, during the summer of 1963, was working with lasers at TRG, Inc., a small company whose guru was Gordon Gould, now recognized as the inventor of the laser.  After three summers at TRG, I spent three years working on nonlinear optics for my PhD thesis, under the guidance of Professor Nicolaas Bloembergen, who later won the Nobel Prize in Physics for codifying nonlinear optics.


Following completion of my PhD research in 1969, I joined IBM Research, where I have worked ever since. Upon joining the Quantum Electronincs group in the Physical Sciences Department of the T.J. Watson Research Center, my management told me to "do something great" with lasers.


After working on atomic spectroscopy with dye lasers through the 1970's, I had the inspiration to acquire an excimer laser for the Laser Physics and Chemistry Group. Using this laser, my colleagues and I discovered excimer laser surgery, capable of removing human and animal tissue with great precision, while leaving the underlying and adjacent tissue free of collateral damage. This discovery laid the foundation for the laser refractive surgical procedures of PRK and LASIK, which have been used to improve the visual acuity of more than 50 million people, including my son Keith, General Mark Milley, and Michelle Obama.


Today, I am working on validating my concept that the argon fluoride excimer laser can serve as a "smart scalpel," capable of debriding necrotic lesions of the skin without damaging the underlying and adjacent viable tissue, leading to faster healing, reduced pain, reduced probability of infection, and minimal scarring.

To quote Louis Pasteur, "Chance favors the prepared mind!"



James J. Wynne is a senior member of the staff of IBM Research Headquarters, where he carries out laser-based research and contributes to the T.J. Watson Research Center's technical education outreach program to local schools, which he founded in 1990.  He believes that his professional community of scientists and engineers must be involved with the scientific, mathematical, and technical education of young people.


Dr. Wynne earned a BA in physics in 1964 and a PhD in applied physics in 1969 from Harvard University and, subsequently, has spent time his entire career with IBM Research, where he pursued a program of scientific research and management in the areas of laser science, medical applications of lasers, neuroscience, and chemical physics.  His research contributions have been in nonlinear optics of semicondustors and insulators, nonlinear spectroscopy of atomic and molecular vapors, laser etching and fluorescence studies of human and animal tissue, and cluster science.


Dr. Wynne and two IBM colleagues discovered excimer laser surgery in 1981, laying the foundation for LASIK and PRK, techniques that have improved the vision of more than 50 million people. For their discovery, they were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, won the R. W. Wood Prize of the Optical Society of America (OSA), were awarded the Rank Prize for Opto-Electronics, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and were awarded the Russ Prize of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).  Dr. Wynne is currently working on a laser-based "smart scalpel," an application of excimer lasers to debride necrotic lesions of skin, including burn eschar, without causing collateral damage.


He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), the OSA, and the National Academy of Inventors, a Member of the NAE, and a Member of the American Association of Physics Teachers.  He has served as a Member of the APS Council, representing the Forum on Education, which he helped to create.  He has served on the APS Committee on Education, chairing that committee for one year.  He is also a Professor in the University of South Florida's Institute for Advance Discovery & Innovation.

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