Distinguished Alumni Awards

William W. Simmons

William W. Simmons
To William W. Simmons, for outstanding original research contributions to the development of electro-optical devices, including pulsed ion lasers, very large laser systems, and semiconductor laser arrays, and for his leadership in furthering the national goal of fusion energy generation.

Independent Consultant, Systems Solutions, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

  • BA, 1953, Physics, Carlton College
  • MS, 1955, Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • PhD, 1960, Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


In 1985, Simmons rejoined TRW as director of group research, with the goal of rebuilding the strength of TRW’s Solid State Lasers and Nonlinear Optics, Superconductive Electronics, and Semiconductor Diode Laser Devices and Arrays research groups. In 1992, he retired from TRW. Since then, he has remained committed to helping LLNL bring the National Ignition Facility from concept to reality through service on program and project reviews and committees as well as through time spent with NIF working groups.

His contributions in laser development and his devotion, even in retirement, to furthering the fundamental national goal of fusion generation of energy represent scientific discovery and engineering practice at the highest level. He is an ideal role model for Illinois students of science and engineering.


William W. Simmons is a brilliant scientist and groundbreaking engineer whose career has spanned national laboratories and industry, culminating in his leading role in the development of a series of high-power, solid-state lasers for fusion research.

Simmons received his PhD from the University of Illinois in physics in 1960. His thesis was part of the effort to explore the Bardeen–Cooper–Schrieffer theory of superconductivity using nuclear magnetic resonance. After receiving his doctorate, Simmons went to work for Space Technology Labs (which later became TRW), developing a variety of lasers and electro-optic devices. Among other items, he developed the rubidium optically pumped frequency standard that became the basic timekeeper for the worldwide LORAN navigational system. From 1968 to 1971, he was an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Department of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA. He received the Distinguished Teaching in Engineering Award from UCLA in 1971.

In 1972, he joined the Engineering Department of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and, soon thereafter, its newly formed Laser Program. From 1972 to 1978, he held technical/project engineering responsibility for developing and deploying the series of progressively higher power/energy Nd:glass solid state laser systems at LLNL. These lasers—Cyclops, Argus, and Shiva—were used as stepping stones along the path to inertial confinement fusion. From 1978 through 1984, Simmons was the engineering leader, responsible for the design, development, and construction of Nova, the next-generation effusion laser systems. Nova reached its design criteria—100 kJ at 1 ns/1 per year were successfully conducted before its shutdown in 1998.

Current as of 2009.