A commemorative editorial for the 50th anniversary of Applied Optics describes how OSA’s second journal was born.

© 2012 Optical Society of America

By 1960 I had already been a member of OSA since the mid-1940s, and the Journal of the Optical Society of America (JOSA) was my favorite journal. At that time I was the head of a small group of researchers at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories in Bedford, Massachusetts, studying the infrared characteristics of the earth’s atmosphere. My own interests were more on the infrared spectroscopy of atmospheric molecules (such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, nitrous oxide, and so on), rather than on the art of grinding lenses.

About that same time—and particularly after the Soviet launch of the satellite Sputnik in 1957—several entrepreneurs had begun publishing scientific journals, starting up new “international, interdisciplinary” journals in areas relating to atmospheric and space studies. Scarcely a month went by when one did not receive a notice of some new Pergamon, North Holland, or Interscience journal relating to some area of optics or spectroscopy. In fact, Robert Maxwell, the publisher of Pergamon, had already recruited Sidney Passman (the infrared specialist at the RAND Corporation) and me to be the joint editors of a proposed new journal, Infrared Physics.

Unknown to Passman and me, several members of the OSA board of directors were dismayed by the announcement of a new journal in infrared, which would surely drain away more papers from JOSA, which was growing very slowly. An OSA committee chaired by Walter Baird had met in 1959 and reported that the OSA needed to combat competition by starting a second journal of its own, also to be “international and interdisciplinary,” and perhaps to be named Applied Optics. A well-known optical infrared scientist, Stanley Ballard, then working at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography near San Diego, had already indicated his interest in becoming the editor of the new OSA journal. At the spring meeting of OSA in 1960 the board approved the concept for the new, second OSA journal.

Alas, that summer Ballard was offered the chair of the physics department at the University of Florida, and he decided he would be too busy adapting to his new job to also edit the new OSA journal. I heard later that during the October, 1960 OSA board meeting (at the Somerset Hotel in Boston), they made a long list on the blackboard of possible alternative editors, and they then proceeded to discuss each name in turn. While that discussion was going on, I was attending a meeting in the same hotel of an infrared group that was meeting jointly with OSA. At lunch in the hotel that day, R. Bolling Barnes of Barnes Engineering (and a member of the OSA board) came over to my table and asked if I were offered the editorship of Applied Optics would I be willing to resign from Infrared Physics? Of course I would; editing an OSA journal would be much more prestigious than editing a commercial journal! In mid-afternoon I was invited into the OSA board meeting and offered the editorship of Applied Optics. At that same board meeting Patricia “Paddy” Wakeling of the OSA office was appointed managing editor of the new journal. Thus began AO.

We spent 1961 planning the new journal. Paddy had formerly worked at Pergamon and was well-trained in the planning of a new journal. We decided that the first few issues should have featured topics, with papers to be stimulated by individual feature editors well known in their own areas of research. Bruce Billings of Baird Atomic agreed to serve as feature editor for the inaugural issue in January 1962. The optical maser had just appeared on the scene in mid-1960 and was the focus of much interest and excitement in optics. Francis Bitter, the head of the National Magnet Lab at MIT, agreed to write the lead paper for the inaugural issue, and future Nobelists Alfred Kastler, Arthur Schawlow, and Norman Ramsey all promised to submit papers to the first issue. (Future Nobelist Willis Lamb contributed a book review).

The first issue was a splendid success, and the subsequent five issues of the first year were similarly successful on other topics. Applied Optics was off to a flying start. By the second year so many papers were contributed to AO that I had to ask the board to increase our page budget and permit AO to become a monthly. Was that success due to the wisdom and skill of that first editor? Or was it simply that Applied Optics had been very fortunate in having been brought into existence in the right place and at the right time, ready to receive papers at the cutting edge of optics?

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