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Family, colleagues to commemorate former Optical Science director

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 23, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Peter Franken former UA Optical Sciences director

Former UA Optical Sciences director Peter Franken, who died March 11 at the age of 70, will be remembered for his charisma and scientific contributions tomorrow during an on-campus memorial service.

Family members believe Franken contracted Hepatitis-A while vacationing in Guanajuato, Mexico during the beginning of this year. The resulting liver damage cost Franken his life.

James Wyant, current UA Optical Sciences director, said Franken not only had a knack for science, but specialized in people skills as well.

"He had a fantastic sense of humor and always had stories to tell," Wyant said. "He was very good at getting people to work together."

Franken joined the University of Arizona in 1973 as an optics pioneer and professor and the second Optical Sciences Center director. He also taught at Stanford and Michigan universities for a combined 21 years before joining the UA.

After serving as director, he remained a professor until his last days.

Masud Mansuripur, a UA Optical Sciences professor, said Franken was the first scientist to perform a groundbreaking optical sciences study in the 1960s.

"He was a very famous physicist - first one to do (an) experiment of the second harmonic generation," Mansuripur said.

The experiment consisted of shining red laser light on a piece of glass or crystal which, in turn, gives off blue light, he said.

Before Franken came to the UA, the center only received funding from the U.S. Air Force. He brought in support from NASA, the National Science Foundation and several other industrial companies during his 10-year term.

Franken's contributions to the UA began the moment he stepped on campus, when he hired the "strength" of the center who carry on his legacy, Wyant said.

Franken hired Wyant, which led to a 25-year-long professional relationship.

"Not only was he a smart person, (but he was) interested in helping people and what they went through," Wyant said.

Franken's widow, Peg Nash Franken, said her husband's morals defined his life.

"My greatest admiration for him was his enormous amount of integrity," she said. "I don't think many people would rise to this integrity in day-to-day life."

Mansuripur recalled an unforgettable personal lesson he learned from Franken.

"I have learned a lot of things from Peter, but this is the one I'll probably remember forever," he said. "There was a time something had happened and I was angry and telling people what's right and wrong and how they should behave."

Franken pulled Mansuripur aside and gave him some advice.

"He said, 'Always tell the truth. But for heaven's sake, don't go around telling it all the time.'"

Mansuripur said Nicolaus Bloembergen, a Nobel Prize winner and Harvard physics professor, once honored Franken by remembering his influence on linear optics.

"I once heard in a seminar (where Bloembergen is speaking) that in Christianity, it's dates are referred as BC and AD. But in linear optics they are referred to as BF and AF," Mansuripur said. "And that stands for Before Franken and After Franken."

Franken is survived by his wife of 16 years, Peg Nash Franken, five children, Alicia Delano of Chicago, Lydia Quilter of Colville, Wash., Jessica Franken of Phoenix, and Tucsonans Polly Nash and Patrick Nash.

Franken is also survived by six grandchildren and a brother, Paul Franken of New York.

Tomorrow's "open-mike" memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. in the University of Arizona Stadium Club.

The gathering will include family, friends and colleagues to share their memories and anecdotes about Franken.

"I think it'll be upbeat - that's what Peter would want," Wyant said. "He wouldn't want a sad memorial."