Pierre TOURNOIS

Pierre Tournois passed away at his home in Cagnes-sur-mer (France) on March 6th 2017.

Pierre is a worldwide recognized pioneer in the field of signal processing, surface acoustic waves (SAW) and optics. His innovations and discoveries had a significant impact on the scientific world: Gires-Tournois Interferometer, Maerfeld-Tournois wave, SAW dispersive delay line, devices for controlling and measuring the time shape of a laser pulse. Furthermore, under his dynamic and enthusiastic management, a large spectrum of innovations were promoted: adaptive antenna for sonars and radars, development of an IRM system, and of course, many new ideas in SAW, signal processing and ultra-fast optics.

Pierre was born in Paris on March 26th 1936.

He graduated from the ”Ecole Supérieure d’Optique” Paris in 1959. He probably fell into a “signal processing bath” at this place since for the whole duration of his career he developed devices, either digital or analog, in SAW or in optics, for pulse shaping sonar, radar or laser signals.

He started his career at the Central Research Laboratory of Thomson CSF. He was immediately noticed by publishing in 1964 the idea of what is known today as the Gires-Tournois Interferometer, shortly after the first experimental demonstration of a pulsed laser.

In 1966, he joined the very new sonar department of Thomson CSF in Cagnes (near Nice). There, he was in charge of creating an R&D group for the sonar activity. He organized 2 groups, one in digital technology and the second in analog. Both groups were very successful: the digital group is still famous for their work in adaptive antennas, and the second for their studies in SAW: large timebandwidth dispersive delay lines, SAW convolvers and the Maerfeld Tournois wave.

In 1974, he was called to head the sonar department and acted as a pure manager up to 1982.

Most of the time, the career of scientists proceeds irreversibly towards management. They start their career as brilliant scientists and as they become older they move to managerial positions. From 1982 to the end, Pierre followed the exact opposite path, from operational manager to technical director to scientist: in 1982, he became technical director (and vice president) of CGR, a subsidiary of Thomson CSF devoted to Medical Imaging (1982-1987). His strong action led to the design of the first MRI system of this company. Then he became the vice president of the Aeronautics Branch of Thomson-CSF, in charge of Research and Development 1988-1999. At that time, acting as a part-time scientist, he renewed his interest for the compression of laser pulses, for which the Gires-Tournois interferometer had been a pioneering invention. Compression had become a crucial problem with the advent of femtosecond pulsed lasers and amplifiers. After introducing several new concepts such as grism compressors, he searched for the Grail of an optically simple and electronically tunable device and found it with acousto-optic interactions. The new device, which is known in the world as the “Dazzler”, its commercial name, rapidly became a workhorse in the ultrafast laser community.

In 1999, he leaved Thales to co-found Fastlite, a small start-up, based on his inventions. Fastlite has evolved into a world leader in ultrafast pulse shaping and characterization of laser signals.

The list and dates of prestigious awards he has received bears witness of his remarkable journey from scientist to manager and back.

  • 1971 – BLONDEL’s medal
  • 1973 – Grand Prix de l’Electronique Général FERRIE
  • 2005 – David SARNOFF Award
  • 2006 – Grand Prix des Ingénieurs de l’Année (Engineer of the Year)
  • 2009 – Grand Prix Léon BRILLOUIN de la Société Française d’Optique (French Optical Society grand prize)

He is a founding member of the French Academy of Technologies.

Pierre is survived by his wife, Jeanne (Nanou), his daughter, Catherine, and his son Pascal who is pursuing his father’s legacy at the head of Fastlite.