Distinguished Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae, a faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, died of complications from cancer on July 10, 2023.

There are many tributes being offered in Sheik-Bahae’s memory and all touch on one essential quality - his exceptional humanity. Even before learning of his impressive personal and scientific accomplishments, people were universally struck by his warmth, humor and generosity. He was a treasured colleague and mentor and welcomed lifelong friendships with many.

Mansoor Sheik-Bahae
UNM Distinguished Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae

While UNM was his home for almost 30 years, many different communities around the world mourn his passing. Mansoor grew up in Isfahan, Iran and readily talked of the beauty and history of that city. He visited his family there as often as he could. As the first in his family to come to the U.S., he and his wife Sherry helped many family and friends with the transition to life outside of Iran.

Sheik-Bahae came to the U.S. in the midst of the Islamic Revolution and received a B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. followed by a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. After conducting research at the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at the University of Central Florida, Sheik-Bahae joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UNM in 1994. He was elected Fellow of the Optical Society of America in 2000, Fellow of the SPIE in 2023, and became a UNM Distinguished Professor in 2014.

His research was characterized by a deep scientific understanding, originality and a strong feel for practical applications. Combining his expertise in physics, optics (he was awarded the 2012 R.W. Wood Prize from the Optical Society), engineering (likewise, the 1990 IEEE/LEOS Engineer of the Year) and his abiding love of mathematics, he is known for his invention of the Z-scan technique, construction of the first solid-state laser cryogenic cooler, and most recently, for demonstrating compact, inexpensive lasers capable of helping astronomers eliminate atmospheric distortions. All of these examples are based on Mansoor’s deep physical insight and his mastery of mathematical modeling.

For instance, the Z-scan technique describes a simple way to measure how the optical properties of materials change with the intensity of light. While many techniques to measure these properties had been proposed, Mansoor’s elegant implementation and analysis now dominate the field, as evidenced by the more than 10,000 citations to his subject papers.

Similarly, while the theoretical basis for the use of lasers to cool solids has been known for decades, Sheik-Bahae’s research group was the first to demonstrate a practical implementation. That achievement has been recognized on journal and magazine covers, and his ingenious innovations are being replicated around the world. He and his collaborators have received seven UNM patents for this work.

With more than 26,000 citations to his work, Sheik-Bahae was a preeminent figure in optics. His seminal scholarly accomplishments are already standard in optics textbooks. He had numerous global collaborations and was a highly sought-after consultant and speaker.

Mansoor Equipment
Distinguished Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae at home in his lab.

He expected much from the over 50 students and postdocs he mentored but always provided them with the wisdom and tools they needed to succeed. Mansoor continued to lead his group meetings remotely through his illness. He was a passionate champion of the Graduate Optical Science and Engineering (OSE) Program at UNM. Jointly administered by the Departments of Physics & Astronomy and Electrical & Computer Engineering, the program has graduated over 150 Ph.D. students and a similar number of Masters students since 1986. He chaired OSE at key times for many years, and under his leadership, it developed into the most successful interdisciplinary graduate program at UNM. He tirelessly promoted the program and solicited the internal and external support needed to compete with the better-funded optics and photonics programs at other universities.  

Sheik-Bahae’s legacy is broad and deep, and his loss strikes those in the UNM community who knew him particularly hard. Together with Sherry and his daughter Anahita, he is mourned as a much-loved husband, father, colleague, scholar, teacher and friend.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy has begun a fundraising effort for an annual student prize to be named after Distinguished Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae. If anyone would like to honor Mansoor in this way, the department would very much appreciate a donation to make this prize a reality.

Interested individuals may give here. Use the "Give in Honor of" option to specify that the gift is in Mansoor Sheik-Bahae’s honor.

A memorial service is being planned for September.