Obituary: Brooke Ward (12.12.1933 – 6.12.2023) renowned laser application scientist and AILU Life Member

We at AILU were extremely sorry to hear of the passing of Brooke Ward, outstanding laser application scientist and AILU Life Member, on 6th December, just short of his 90th birthday.

In 2009 Brooke Ward was presented with the AILU Award, given annually to recognise an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the industrial use of lasers in the UK. Brooke won the award for his pioneering work on measurement standards and optics for laser beam propagation and his outstanding contribution to the industrial use of CO2 lasers in the UK.

Brooke was extremely well respected and well liked in the laser community, as reflected in the thoughts that AILU members have shared below.

“I first met Brooke in February 1984 as a young undergraduate from The Netherlands, having travelled to England to work on an exciting new topic called “lasers”. Brooke was going to be my supervisor at the UKAEA Culham Laboratory for the next few months. In an office blue from smoke (Brooke loved his Benson & Hedges) he explained the principles of laser cutting and the gas assist jet, and the many unanswered questions and the exciting research opportunities. What followed was an intense three months working with Brooke, culminating in a hand-written report and an agreement I’d be coming back the following year for my graduate project. Under Brooke’s skilled supervision I produced a thesis with pressure scans, Schlieren photos and grease flow patterns – another one of Brooke’s brilliant ideas: take a blob of grease, thicken it with black photocopier toner, and blast a laser cutting nozzle at it to show the flow pattern.

By this time Brooke had firmly hooked me onto a career in industrial laser applications, and after pulling a few levers Brooke managed to get me a job at Culham, starting in September 1985 – despite the fact I was a foreign national. We spent the next several years doing all kinds of laser-related work for the UKAEA’s Northern Division on nuclear decommissioning. We published the laser cutting nozzle work at conferences and I remember one in particular (I think it was one of the early LIM conferences in Munich) where I ended up in a bar with Brooke, and John Powell. Brooke was always brimming with new ideas – laser water marking of paper, hole matrix mirror for laser beam sampling, modelling of laser beam propagation using Fourier transform algorithms on the new Culham main frame computer, infrared imaging devices for laser beam monitoring, adaptive control of laser welding, carbon monoxide lasers for cutting and welding are just a few examples. After his retirement from Culham, Brooke, under his company Europtics Partnership, continued to contribute intensively to the UK laser processing industry, especially through AILU.

Brooke’s passing has touched me personally. He was one of the kindest men I’ve met – and one of a kind. In the early days he would often sit me down in his office and take me through my writings, correcting every single error and explained how important it is to speak good English. He always had time for me. He gave me a copy of “The Complete Plain Words” and I still have the book. At one Christmas, when I wasn’t going back to my folks in The Netherlands, Brooke sensed I was going to be on my own and invited me for Christmas with his wife Kate and their three young children. It was the most magical experience, such a loving, warm and friendly atmosphere, I will never forget it. Another time I decided to give Brooke a nice bottle of malt whisky because he had done something else nice for me (I forget what it was). He wasn’t in his office, so I left it on his desk. He found it quickly and before I could say anything Brooke started going around the lab, excitedly saying he reckoned somebody important has left him a present because the team had done so well (I knew he’d had some high-powered meetings earlier). I never had the heart to tell him.

Brooke, rest in peace my dear friend.”

Jim Fieret, BOC




“I first worked closely with Brooke in one of the initial ‘collaborative’ European research projects, EU83. Brooke contributed enthusiastically to the design of the beam delivery and focusing system for a very high power CO2 laser. It was only then did I realise how problematical such things could be at high powers. His ‘beam telescope’ solution to the difficulties of maintaining a beam with a constant caustic over the range of movement of a large five axis gantry system was, I think, completely new. He was also aware of the problems caused when propagating such a high-power beam through a guide tube, over long distances. This is due to thermal blooming of the beam, which can result in significant unwanted beam divergence. His solution was to employ a Koanda effect ‘air mover’ in the beam line, the motion of the resultant air through the beam guidance tube, effectively reducing divergence to a minimum. I don’t think many people will know, but when ILT in Aachen was opened, the main experimental hall contained a very complicated CO2 laser beam switching and delivery system, employing several lasers, processing workstations and beam tubes. This had been installed just after the laying of an epoxy-based floor coating. The system initially gave problems (due to thermal blooming) with inconsistent processing results, and I understand that it was Brooke who pointed out what was causing this and offered suggestions on how to deal with it.

The first collaborative European laser projects were something new to all of us and soon it became clear that each country involved tried a little one-upmanship, when it was their turn to host a meeting. At one such meeting, entertainment and dinner was provided by Valmet, a large paper making company in Finland. We were taken on a boat to the Valmet lakeside lodge and sauna. After the sauna we were encouraged to swim in the lake. I can still see a stark-naked Brooke run down a wooden platform and jump into the lake!”

Paul Hilton, ex-AILU President





“Brooke Ward was one of the early pioneers of laser applications and, apart from being a world class scientist and engineer, he was a really nice guy. His work with Jim Fieret and Malcolm Terry in the 1980s changed everyone’s understanding of how cutting nozzles work.

In a revelatory (to me anyway) lecture in 1983 he showed a rapt audience that, contrary to common sense, if you turn up the supply pressure to a cutting nozzle, the pressure on the workpiece can sometimes go down rather than up. This explained a lot of the problems we had all been having with cutting in those early days. We would often try to improve the cutting by incrementally turning up the cutting gas pressure – things would gradually improve and then, when you turned up the pressure a bit more, it would all get a lot worse. He explained the physics behind this phenomenon in the plain language of a real expert. Brooke then spent decades explaining lots of other important optical phenomena to us all. And, to top all this, he was, as I mentioned earlier, a really nice guy. He will be missed.”

John Powell, Laser Expertise