Kenneth J. Schafer Honored as Boyd Professor, LSU’s Highest Professorial Ranking

September 08, 2023

On Friday, Sept. 8, the LSU Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to designate Kenneth J. Schafer, Ball Family Distinguished Professor in Physics & Astronomy, the rank of Boyd Professor—the highest and most prestigious academic rank at LSU.

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Schafer is the 79th Boyd Professor named at LSU since the honorific was established in 1953.

“Dr. Kenneth Schafer’s outstanding achievements and international recognition in both teaching and research make him most deserving of this prestigious academic ranking at LSU,” said LSU President William F. Tate IV. “Dr. Schafer embodies the meaning of Scholarship First, a champion in academics and a pioneer of scientific achievement, it is an honor to recognize him as the newest Boyd Professor.”

Schafer is the 79th Boyd Professor named at LSU since the honorific was established in 1953 by the LSU Board of Supervisors after brothers David and Thomas Boyd, former faculty members and presidents of LSU. 

Schafer joined the LSU physics department in 1995 as a promising scientist and has long served as a leading researcher and pioneer in ultrafast laser and X-ray physics.

Schafer’s research focuses on laser-molecular interactions and dynamics, which is one of the primary areas of research in Atomic, Molecular, Optical (AMO) Physics. Dr. Schafer has authored more than 130 journal articles, which have been cited more than 16,000 times.  Schafer’s early research helped launch and shape the entire field of ultrafast laser physics by showing how to convert infrared light to extreme ultraviolet and X-rays using ultrashort laser pulses aimed at particular atoms. Later work included advanced theory to support the use of ultrashort laser pulses to observe quantum dynamics of electrons and atomic nuclei during chemical reactions. The field he founded is sometimes called “attosecond physics” because the phenomena he uses and studies last approximately one attosecond. An attosecond is 0.000000000000000001 seconds: if we imagine stretching out time so that one second lasted the entire age of the universe, 13.8 billion years, a stretched attosecond would still only be about a half-second long. His programs have attracted more than $8 million in funding to LSU. He is largely the reason LSU is a global magnet in this field.

Schafer led the development of several multi-institution center proposals that combine the theory expertise of his group with forefront experimental capabilities, including a $12.5 million Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives funded by the Department of Defense.

Schafer’s accolades are unparalleled as they are evident in his many scholarly recognitions including the National Science Foundation Early Career Award, LSU Distinguished Faculty Award, LSU College of Basic Sciences Faculty Research Award, along with several other international recognitions from the countries of Sweden and Denmark. He is a fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Optical Society of America, and the American Physical Society.

“Dr. Schafer is an internationally renowned trailblazer in physics who has made huge impacts in the lives of students and junior researchers through mentorship and exceptionally clear, ordered and accessible instruction,” said Executive Vice President & Provost Roy Haggerty. “Dr. Schafer has put LSU in a leadership position in a highly distinguished field, and is one of the most respected faculty members on our campus. He is highly deserving of this recognition.”

In addition to his notable achievements and highly cited publications Schafer is an outstanding educator as noted by his always above-average student evaluations. His research program attracts top talent from around the world. His broad experience and thoughtful insight make his classes highly sought-after by students and young scientists.

“It is an honor to have Dr. Schafer on our campus, on the basis of his exceptional career of world-class research, his outstanding contributions to education and mentorship of the next generation of scientists, and his generous service contributions. He is well deserving of this, the highest recognition that can be granted by LSU,” said Dean of Science Cynthia Peterson.

Nominations for the Boyd Professorship are initiated in the college, routed for review and support at the campus level, then considered by the LSU Boyd Professorship Review Committee, which seeks confidential evaluations from dozens of distinguished scholars in the candidate’s field of expertise. Once endorsed by the review committee, the nomination is forwarded to the LSU president and Board of Supervisors for consideration.

Dr. Schafer demonstrating a concept to class.Dr. Schafer speaking to class.Dr. Schafer explaining a concept to the class.President Tate shaking Dr. Schafer's hand.

President Tate talking to class; Provost Haggerty and Dr. Schafer look on.Group shot of Provost Haggerty, Dr. Schafer and President Tate.