Federico Capasso


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Personal details

Name: Federico Capasso

                 School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
                 Harvard University
                 205 A Pierce Hall
                 29 Oxford Street
                 Cambridge MA 02138

Phone: (617) 384-7611

Fax: (617) 495-2875

Email:  capasso@seas.harvard.edu

Personal: Married; two children

Citizenship: Italian and US (Naturalized; 09/23/1992)



Doctor of Physics, Cum Laude

University of Rome, Italy


Postdoctoral Fellow,

Fondazione Bordoni, Rome, Italy

Academic Appointments

Jan. 2003 - present

Robert Wallace Professor of Applied Physics

Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA       

Professional Positions

2000 – 2002

Vice President of Physical Research, Bell Laboratories Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, NJ

1997- 2000

Department Head, Semiconductor Physics Research, Bell Laboratories Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, NJ.

1987- 1997

Department Head, Quantum Phenomena and Device Research, Bell Laboratories Lucent Technologies (formerly AT&T Bell Labs, until 1996), Murray Hill, NJ

1984 – 1987

Distinguished Member of Technical Staff, Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ

1977 – 1984

Member of Technical Staff, Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ

1976 – 1977

Visiting Scientist, Bell Laboratories, Holmdel, NJ

1974 – 1976

Research Physicist, Fondazione Bordoni, Rome, Italy

Citations (Google Scholar): Over 89000

H-index (Google Scholar): 141

Publications: Over 500 peer-reviewed journals

Patents: 69 US patents

Key achievements

1. Bandstructure Engineering.and Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs)

Capasso and his team over a 20-year period pioneered band-structure engineering, a technique to design and implement artificially structured (“man-made”) semiconductor ,materials and related phenomena/ devices, which revolutionized heterojunction devices. Quantum Cascade lasers represent the most important highlight of this research. Invented and demonstrated by Capasso and his group in 1994, QCLs are the first lasers in which the emission wavelength can be tailored over an extreme broad range using quantum design. They have revolutionized mid-infrared photonics, as they represent the first high performance and reliable semiconductor lasers for this technologically and scientifically important spectral region. They are finding widespread use in scientific and industrial applications: high-resolution spectroscopy, chemical sensing and trace gas analysis, atmospheric chemistry, combustion and medical diagnostics. Numerous companies are commercializing QC lasers and related sensors.

A tutorial account of Capasso's research on quantum cascade lasers has appeared in a book for a lay audience on materials research by Ivan Amato ("Stuff: the materials the world is made of", Basic Books, New York, NY, 1997) and in the article "Diminishing dimensions" in a special issue of Scientific American, the Solid-State Century, 1997-1998.

Other bandgap engineered devices invented by Capasso and his team are:

  • A new class of low noise multiquantum well avalanche photodiodes and solid-state photomultipliers.
  • Resonant tunneling bipolar transistors and circuits with reduced complexity. This work has been influential in stimulating new research in multiple valued logic and multilevel coding.
  • New photoconductors based on effective mass filtering

2. Metasurfaces and Flat optics

  • Generalized laws of reflection and refraction demonstrated and theoretically derived for a general class of designer metasurfaces.
  • Flat optics based on metasurfaces such as aberration free flat lenses (metalenses), background free quarter wave plates, polarimeters etc. This work has led to a large effort worldwide since metalenses hold promise to replace refractive lenses because they are thinner, their aberrations are more easily corrected, they are much easier to align, and can be fabricated by lithographic methods. In addition, they don’t suffer from many of the limitations of conventional diffractive optics (Fresnel lenses).

The polarization sensitive camera demonstrated with flat optics consists of a single metasurface and a sensor and performs as well as bulky state-of-the-art ones replacing the multiple phase plates, with the metasurface.

Capasso and his group have developed a new class of films which, due to the intentional introduction of optical losses, exhibit thin film interference though they are much thinner than the wavelength. This work has initiated a large effort with a wide range of potential applications: structured color, solar cells, detectors etc.

3. Plasmonics

This research has focused on designing in the near- and far-field of semiconductor lasers and on nanoparticle clusters as buiding blocks of new optical materials.

  • New surface plasmon coupling coupler (fishbone grating), allowing for the first-time polarization controlled directional coupling of surface plasmon polaritons.
  • Plasmonic laser antennas with ultrahigh intensity nanoscale spots in the near field for optical storage applications
  • Wavefront engineering of light sources including highly collimated mid-IR and far-IR semiconductor lasers; multibeam collimated lasers, etc.
  • Core-shell nanoparticles clusters (trimers, quadrumers and heptamers) exhibiting magnetic activity in the near infrared and giant Fano resonances. They are building blocks of a new class of optical materials, such as liquid metamaterials.

4. Casimir forces

This research has focused on basic studies of the Casimir effect, i.e. the attractive force between uncharged metals and dielectrics due to vacuum fluctuations, using MicroElectroMechanicalSystems (MEMS) and atomic force techniques. This line of research is ultimately aimed at engineering these quantum electrodynamical forces by designing quantum fluctuations through controlled changes (shapes and materials) of the boundary conditions of the electromagnetic fields. Applications include the quantum mechanical control of friction.

Highlights of this work are:

  • First measurement of the repulsive Casimir-Lifshitz force.
  • Demonstration of actuators and nonlinearoscillators using the Casimir force, the observation of the effect of the skin depth on the Casimir force;
  • Observation of the Casimir effect in a fluid



Cofounded EOS Photonics to market Quantum Cascade Laser based sensors of gases for atmospheric science and security; standoff detection of hazardous vapors and condensed phase materials; molecular spectroscopy and power scaling. It merged in 2015 with Pendar Medical to form Pendar Technologies (http://www.pendartechnologies.com/) which is focused on bringing breakthrough portable analysis and monitoring systems to market.


Cofounded Metalenz (http://metalenz.com) which is focused on bringing to market metalenses for a wide range of applications. Metalenses can be fabricated with the same technology of integrated circuits.  Metalenz has received substantial VC support and backing from major industries 



2021                 Frederic Ives Medal and Jarus W. Quinn Prize, Optical Society of America

2019                 Matteucci Medal, Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze, detta dei XL

2019                 Guglelmo Marconi Science Award, UNICO 

2018                 Fermi Prize of the Italian Physical Society

2017                 Kenneth Button Prize, International Society of Infrared, Millimeter 
and Terahertz Waves and Institute of Physics (UK)

2016                 Balzan Prize for Applied Photonics, Balzan Foundation

2015                 Rumford Prize, American Academy of Arts and Science 

2013                 Gold Medal of SPIE

2013                 European Physical Society Quantum Electronics and Optics Award

2013                 Humboldt Research Award

2011                 Jan Czochralski Award of the European Materials Research Society

2011                 Galileo Galilei Medal of the Italian Society for Optics and Photonics

2010                 Julius Springer Prize in Applied Physics

2010                 Berthold Leibinger Zukunft Prize (Future prize)

2005                 King Faisal International Prize for Science

2005                 Gold Medal of the President of Italy for meritorious achievement in science

2004                 Edison Medal, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)

2004                 Arhur Schawlow Prize in Laser Science, American Physical Society

2004                 Tommasoni & Chisesi Prize for Outstanding Achievements in Physics

2003                 Goff Smith Prize and Lecture, University of Michigan

2002                  Duddell Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics (London, UK)

2001                  Robert Wood Prize of the Optical Society of America

2000                 Willis E. Lamb Medal for Laser Physics and Quantum Optics 

2000                 NASA Group Achievement Award

1998                 IEEE/Laser & Electrooptics Society W. Streifer Award for Scientific Achievement

1998                 Rank Prize in Optoelectronics (UK)

1998                 Capitolium Prize of the Mayor of Rome, Italy

1997                 Wetherill Medal of the Franklin Institute

1997                 Bell Laboratories Fellow Award

1995                 Materials Research Society Medal

1995                 Moet Hennessy·Louis Vuitton “Leonardo da Vinci” Award of Excellence (France)

1995                 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Assosciation for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for best paper published in Science

1995                 Electronics Letters Prize of the Institute of Electrical Engineers       (London, UK)

1994                 Heinrich Welker Memorial Medal (Germany) and International CompoundSemiconductors Symposium Award

1993                 The New York Academy of Sciences Award

1991                 IEEE David Sarnoff Award in Electronics

1984                 Bell Laboratories Distinguished Member of Technical Staff Award


2019                 Fellow, National Academy of Inventors

2015                 Member, Academia Europaea    

2012                 Foreign Member, Accademia dei Lincei

1995                 Member, National Academy of Sciences

1996                 Member, National Academy of Engineering

1998                 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1999                 Fellow, The Institute of Physics (UK)

1997                 Honorary Member, of the Franklin Institute

1992                 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1991                 Fellow, International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE)

1989                 Fellow, Optical Society of America

1987                 Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers

1986                 Fellow, American Physical Society

Honorary Doctorates and Other Honors

2019                 Honorary issue of Nanophotonics (Volume 7, Issue 6, Jun 2018) for Federico  
                 Capasso on “Metamaterials & Metasurfaces”

2011                 Honorary Doctorate University Paris Diderot, France

2011                 Honorary Doctorate of Technology, Lund University, Sweden

2011                 Honorary Doctorate in Materials Science, University of Roma III, Italy

2003                 Honorary Doctorate in Electrical Engineering, University of Bologna, Italy

2004                 Commendatore of the Italian Republic