February 21, 2024

Andrew M. Weiner: A Brilliant Mind, an Inspirational Mentor, and a Real Mensch

Andrew M. Weiner, who was the Scifres Family Distinguished Professor in the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, passed away on February 13, 2024, following a valiant battle with cancer.
the late Professor Weiner poses for a portrait in front of a bookcase in his office.
Andrew M. Weiner, 1958-2024

Purdue University is mourning the passing of a luminary in the realms of electrical engineering and ultrafast optics. Andrew M. Weiner, who was the Scifres Family Distinguished Professor in the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, passed away on February 13, 2024, following a valiant battle with cancer. Remembered for his profound contributions to engineering, education, and mentorship, Weiner leaves behind a legacy of innovation and inspiration.

Weiner’s contributions to the field began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he set a world record for shortest optical pulse during his graduate studies. Supported by a Fannie and John Hertz fellowship, Weiner earned his Sc.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1984. His thesis, Femtosecond Optical Pulse Generation and Dephasing Measurements in Condensed Matter,” earned him the Hertz Thesis Prize in the same year.

After graduation, Weiner continued his research at Bellcore, a prestigious telecommunications research and development company, where he ascended to the role of Manager of Ultrafast Optics and Optical Signal Processing Research. In 1992, Weiner embarked on his distinguished tenure at Purdue University as a Full Professor in ECE. During his time at Purdue, Weiner’s groundbreaking research in ultrafast optics revolutionized the processing of high-speed lightwave signals, particularly in the area of femtosecond pulse shaping. His seminal work on Fourier synthesis methods enabled the precise control of femtosecond light pulses, facilitating their engineering into intricate phase- and amplitude-modulated ultrafast optical waveforms. These advancements found application in fiber-optic networks and laboratories worldwide, shaping the landscape of optical science.

Weiners expertise garnered numerous accolades, including election to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors. In recognition of his unparalleled contributions, Weiner received the 2023 Charles Hard Townes Medal from Optica for his transformative work in bringing optical frequency combs to the quantum realm. His research delved into coherent control, frequency comb generation, and ultrabroadband radio-frequency photonics, further solidifying his status as a pioneer in the field of quantum electronics.

"Professor Weiner has been an inspiration for me,” said Purdue President Mung Chiang. "The list of his accomplishments, as a researcher, inventor, teacher, mentor and leader, runs long and deep, and we all know how the field of ultrafast optics is shaped by his pioneering contribution. What’s equally important, perhaps, is his intellectual curiosity, his gentle yet sharp counsel to colleagues and students, and his insistence on the highest caliber of excellence in what we choose to do. His brave battle against the illness did not diminish his scholarly vibrancy. And now we mourn, along with his family and many friends, the loss of one of the best among all Boilermakers."

Beyond his career accomplishments, Weiner was a beloved colleague, friend, and mentor to the faculty, staff, and students of Purdue ECE. In both his professional and interpersonal interactions, “Andy” was widely regarded for his integrity, kindness, and his commitment to excellence. He strove for it in everything he did, and achieved it,” says Leah Jamieson, Ransburg Distinguished Professor of ECE and Dean Emerita of Engineering. And he respected excellence in others. He always did the right thing, and we will miss him so much.”

His commitment to developing emerging scholars was equally profound, reflected in his mentorship of numerous advanced degree seekers, visiting scholars, and post-doctoral researchers; and many awards recognizing his dedication, including the Provost's Outstanding Graduate Student Mentor Award. “Andy taught me how to treat students, demanding excellence but with a level of compassion that I admired,” said Jason McKinney, an Associate Professor of ECE who started working with Weiner as an undergraduate at Purdue and stayed with him through his PhD. “On every level, Andy was a fantastic mentor and a fantastic friend.”

Never one to micromanage, Weiner gave his students remarkable freedom to set their own schedules and develop their own solutions to challenging research problems. Yet he always cultivated a personal interest in their success, guiding them along impactful research paths, overcoming challenges, and ensuring utmost quality in the final product. Even when advising a dozen students and managing millions of dollars in grants, Weiner devoted painstaking attention to detail on every single paper, whether laboring over word choices or checking every equation for accuracy.

Undeterred by the draining regimes of experimental cancer treatments over the past three years, he maintained direct involvement in his research until the end, even participating in a student’s thesis defense just days before his passing. Through his professional and personal example, he fashioned students into independent and critical thinkers able to excel on a variety of research paths in industry, academia, and government.

His devotion to students was not limited to those whom he advised on MS or PhD theses, but extended to the classroom as well. Demanding from himself the same level of commitment in teaching as research, Weiner devoted extensive time and resources to teaching challenging and worthwhile courses throughout his career, including the graduate elective Ultrafast Optics, enlisting his definitive textbook of the same name, published by Wiley in 2009. “Andy made a substantial positive impact on many young minds and left behind a significant legacy to build upon,” said Purdue ECE Professor Alexander Kildishev. “There is now a hard-to-fill void in our ranks.”

Away from the lab and classroom, Weiner was a passionate instructor in aikido—a Japanese martial art focused on channeling an opponent’s aggression to resolve an attack with minimal harm to all involved. First studying aikido in high school in the 1970s, Weiner resumed training in the 2000s and held godan rank (fifth degree black belt) at the time of his passing. He served as faculty advisor for the Purdue University Aikido Club from 2008-2020.

A loving husband and father who regularly opened his home to his students, Weiner was known for his sense of humor. He loved poetry and devoted many long compositions to memory. His flawless rendition of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” at a Purdue engineering honors society (HKN) talent show delighted an audience unaccustomed to his whimsical side.

As we mourn Andy’s passing, we celebrate the indelible mark he left both on the global field of photonics and on the Purdue community—a mark that will continue to shape the trajectory of scientific inquiry and those whom he inspired to pursue excellence.