National Science Foundation     |     Directorate for Engineering  (ENG)
Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, & Transport Systems  (CBET)  
Additional Program Information - 7236  
Program Director - Leon Esterowitz
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Leon Esterowitz  |  Phone: 703-292-7942  |  eMail:

1956   BS Physics, Yeshiva University
1963   PhD, Physics, New York University
1964   Postdoctoral Fellowship, Research on high power gas lasers, Yale University


October 1999 to present:   Program Director, Biophotonics:  Upon coming to NSF, developed and initiated a new program on Biophotonics to fill the gap between the basic science funded by NSF and the clinical efforts funded by NIH in biomedical photonics.

1971-1999   Served as Section Head, Branch Head, and Chief Scientist, respectively in the Optical Sciences Division at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).  Developed next-generation infrared imaging technology, including focal plane arrays, and signal and image processors, for surveillance, target acquisition, identification, weapons guidance, and threat warning systems.
Investigated laser interactions and photothermal effects in absorbing media at visible and infrared wavelengths.  Generated large database on detector damage thresholds that serves as a national resource and is widely cited.  Developed advanced solid state lasers for use in previously unexplored spectral regions.  Pioneered the development of compact, low-cost, diode-pumped, solid-state lasers at wavelengths required for biomedical applications.  Developed new highly efficient flashlamp-pumped two-micron solid state lasers, replacing cumbersome and expensive solid state and gas lasers used previously for medical applications.

1969-1970   Co-founder and Executive VP of CEA Industries, Inc.  Directed the design of components for state-of-the-art infrared detection and imaging systems in time-constrained environment to meet demanding military deployment schedules.

1965-1969   Group leader of the Quantum Electronics Group at the Night Vision Laboratory at Fort Belvoir.  Transformed the infrared quantum counter into a practical infrared to visible imaging device.

1962-1963 Acting Director of the Microwave Research Group at New York University, investigating microwave spectroscopy for molecular frequency standards.


Authored 332 papers and has been awarded thirty-four patents. Fifteen of these patents are on medical laser development.


- IEEE Fellow with the citation “For pioneering contributions to solid state laser technology, and
its applications, especially in the field of medicine”.
- AIMBE Fellow
- N.Y.U. Honors Scholar,
- Eight Army Special Service Awards
- Numerous Navy Outstanding Performance and Publication Awards
- NRL THOMAS EDISON AWARD for best patent (“Tunable, continuous wave, thulium- doped solid state laser”, #4,969,150)
- LEOS Program Committee Chair for Solid State Lasers (1997)
- SPIE LASE’96 Co-chair for Solid State Laser Conf. (1995-97)
- Chairman of IEEE Solid State Laser Technical Committee (1994-1997)
- Advanced Solid State Laser Conference Advisory Committee Member (1992-1998)
- CLEO Technical Program Committee Chair for Solid State Lasers (1997-1998)
- Technical Chair for LEOS Symposium on Lasers in Medicine (1995-2000)
- IEEE Technical Chairman for Lasers in Biology and Medicine (1997-2000)
- CLEO Steering Committee Member for IEEE/LEOS (1999-2001)
- Executive Committee Member of 9th Conference on Laser Optics (St. Petersburg, June 1998)
- International Advisory Committee Member for the 11th International Meeting on Electro-Optics (Tel-Aviv, Israel, 1999) - Guest Editor for inaugural issue of IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics (“Tunable Solid State Lasers”, April 1995, Vol.1, No.1)
- Associate Editor for the Journal of Quantum Electronics (1995-2001)
- Guest Editor for Journal of Quantum Electronics Feature 2002 Issue on “Biomedical Photonics”
- Editor–in-Chief, Journal of Quantum Electronics, IEEE/LEOS, (2002-2008)
- Serving as Panel Member for two NIH Multi-disciplinary Special Emphasis Panels (1. Surgery, 2. Radiology and Bioengineering)
- Serving as Panel Member for NIH Bioengineering Partnership Grant Applications on Medical Imaging

Below is a three-part video featuring Leon Esterowitz (sponsor of Aydogan Ozcan's research at UCLA) at NSF and a pioneer of medical laser and night vision technologies, describing the history of biophotonics and his own work on the Star Wars missile defense program and other efforts.

SPIE 50th Laser Anniversary Interview   |

Biophotonics Interview Videos   |   Video 1   |   Video 2   |   Video 3   |

Biophotonics Interview  Videos 1, 2 & 3 above   |

2012:  Short Interview  -  Video 4   |   and

           Long Interview   -   Video 5                       |


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This page was Updated on 11 May 2012.