Willem Vos

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Personal Details

Last Name: Vos
First Names: Willem L.
Date of Birth: 30-08-1964
Place of Birth:    Amstelveen (The Netherlands)


1970 - 1971 Ecole du Menhir, St. Martin-en-Bière, France
1971 - 1974 Collège International (former CES International), Fontainebleau, France
1974 - 1976 Montessorischool, Enschede, the Netherlands
1976 - 1982 Scholengemeenschap Zuid (VWO-B), Enschede
1982 - 1987 Master Physics, University of Amsterdam
1987 - 1991    PhD student, van der Waals-Zeeman Institute of the University of Amsterdam

Academic degrees

1987 Master ("doctoraal", with distinction) in Physics, University of Amsterdam
1991    PhD (with special honors "cum laude", top 5%) in Physics, University of Amsterdam

PhD thesis

Title: Phase equilibria in simple systems at high pressure
Advisor:    prof. dr. J. T. M. Walraven
Daily advisor:    dr. J. A. Schouten
Date: February 15, 1991

Employment history


2005 - Chairholder of Complex Photonic Systems (COPS), University of Twente (UT, Enschede, the Netherlands)
2002 -     Full Professor of Applied Physics, MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, UT
2005 - 2009 Groupleader of the "Photonic Band Gaps" group, FOM Institute AMOLF (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
1998 - 2002 Tenured faculty member ("Universitair Docent"), van der Waals-Zeeman Instituut, University of Amsterdam (UvA)
1993 - 1998 Postdoctoral fellow, "Spectroscopy of Condensed Matter" group, with dr. Rudolf Sprik and prof. Ad Lagendijk, UvA
1991 - 1993 Postdoc at the Carnegie Institution for Science, with dr. Larry Finger, dr. Russell Hemley, and dr. Ho-kwang Mao at the Geophysical Laboratory (Washington DC, USA)
1987 - 1991 Research assistant ("Assistent in opleiding"), van der Waals-Zeeman Instituut, UvA

Visiting scientist

1992    month stay at Laboratoire de Physique (dr. Jean-Louis Barrat), Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon (ENSL, Lyon, France)
1991 month stay at Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science (Washington DC, U.S.A.)
1989 month stay at Laboratoire de Physique (dr. Jean-Louis Barrat, prof. Jean-Pierre Hansen), ENSL (Lyon, France)


2011 Fellow of the Optical Society (OSA)
2005      Snellius medal, Society for Advancement of Natural and Medical Sciences (Genootschap voor Natuur-, Genees- en Heelkunde, Amsterdam since 1790). Awarded once per 10 years, previous laureates include profs. Zernike and van der Waals
2001 Distinguished Honorary lecture (March 2001), Faculty of Science and Mathematics, University of Amsterdam
1991 Carnegie Fellowship (1991 - 1993), Carnegie Institution for Science (Washington DC, USA)
1991 Special honors “Cum Laude” (with PhD degree (top 5% of students)
1990 Royal Shell “Studiereis” fellowship awarded by Royal Shell Oil Company to the 10 best Dutch PhD students in natural sciences.

Scientific results

Long term senior collaborators (alphabetical)

  • J.-M. Gérard
  • A. F. Koenderink
  • A. Lagendijk
  • P. Lodahl
  • A. P. Mosk
  • J. A. Schouten
  • L. A. Woldering


World leader

In the field of propagation of light in periodically ordered complex media, so-called photonic crystals, WLV is a pioneer and world leader both in experiments and in theory. This field has grown enormously gained importance due to its highly multidisciplinary character. WLV played a major role in the growth of this field. His work has been highlighted several times in Physics Today, Nature, and Science. In the following a selection will be made of the most important contributions.

  • Transverse localization: AL predicted a new form of localization of light: "Transverse localization of light" (Phys. Rev. Lett. 62, 47-50 (1989)). His prediction was recently confirmed experimentally by Moti Segev et al. (Nature 446, 52 (2007)) and highlighted in Physics Today, May 2007 issue.
  • Weak localization: Group of AL was the first ever (Phys. Rev. Lett. 55, 2692-2695 (1985) to observe weak localization of light (enhanced back-scattering) - independently also observed by Prof. Georg Maret. The coherent backscattering of waves is an interference effect that survives in multiple scattering. This milestone has opened a whole new area of research and has stimulated many workers in different fields. After our pioneering work the observation of coherent back scattering has turned into an industry, with experiments performed with light waves, sound waves, microwaves, polaritons, and with cold gasses. AL was invited to write a column in Physics Today about my discovery.
  • Light slowed down: AL group was the first to predict and to observe extreme slowing down of light in a disordered material (Phys. Rev. Lett. 66, 3132-3135 (1991)). These results were highlighted in the Research and Discovery section of Physics Today, June 1991, p 17-19. At first our findings were met with scepsis and opposition, but five years later, this discovery has become part standard textbook material.
  • Light localized: In Nature (Nature 390, 671-673 (1997) I announced, in collaboration with a group in Florence, the observation of localization of light. The result was put on the front cover (See left: our picture and our text on cover). Sajeev John wrote a News and Views article in that issue to highlight our results. (Nature 390 page 661-662 (1997).
  • Random lasers: Group AL made decisive contributions to the field of random lasers. Even the term Random Lasers was coined by the group. (see Physics World, January 1990, page 33; We recently published the first paper on the determination of the spatial size of a mode in a random laser ( Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 143901 (2007).
  • Density of states: Group AL was the first to introduce the concept of local density of states (LDOS) in the field of photonic crystals, Europhys. Lett. 35, 265 (1996). With their theory they showed that a strong spatial variation in the lifetime of emitters could be expected, well before a photonic bandgap is achieved.
  • Additional discoveries:: Group AL made major contributions to the observation of spatial and frequency correlations, including the first discovery of long-range correlations (Phys. Rev. Lett. 64, 2787-2790 (1990)). AL invented the concept of internal reflection of diffuse waves. The discovery of multifractality of Anderson localized sound wave was recently reported by our group, in collaboration with groups from Manitoba (Canada) and from Grenoble. (Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 155703 (2009)).
  • Early work: WLV obtained his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Amsterdam with highest honors (cum laude) for his thesis “Phase behavior of simple systems at high pressure”. He discovered solubility of helium in solid nitrogen and studied the density functional theory of freezing. He obtained a prestigious Fellowship at the Geophysical Laboratory (Carnegie Institution for Science) where he discovered a novel class of "van der Waals compounds" at very high pressures (77,000 bar) at room temperature (Nature 358, 46-48 (1992)). He also discovered novel hydrogen-water clathrates with the most spectacular one consisting two interpenetrating diamond structures, one for hydrogen and one for water (Phys. Rev. Lett. 71, 3150-3153 (1994)). He contributed a microscopic model to describe the interiod of the large planet Jupiter (Science 263, 1590-1593 (1994)).


Number of papers:   > 110
Number of citations:   >6200
h-index:       40

Numbers obtained from Google Scholar (Dec. 2012).

Numbers from Web of Science slightly lower.

For publication list see public Google Scholar profile

Public Google Scholar profile of WLV.

Ph.D. theses

(UvA means University of Amsterdam, UU means University of Utrecht,

and UT means University of Twente)

1    Defendant: M. Megens
Title: Structure and fluorescence of photonic colloidal crystals
Main advisor: A. Lagendijk
Date of defense:     November 9, 1999, Amsterdam UvA.
2    Defendant: A. F. Koenderink
Title: Emission and transport of light in photonic crystals
Co-advisor: A. Lagendijk
Date of defense:    June 27, 2003, Amsterdam, UvA
3    Defendant: Ms. L. Bechger
Title: Synthesis and Fluorescence of Opal and Air-Sphere Photonic Crystals
Date of defense:    December 18, 2003, Enschede, UT
4    Defendant: J. W. J. Verschuur
Title: Ionization and dissociation of NO and H2 in strong radiation fields
co-advisor: H.B. van Linden van den Heuvell
Date of defense: May 31, 1989, UvA, Amsterdam
5    Defendant: M. Pont
Title: The behavior of atomic hydrogen in superintense, high frequency laser fields
co-advisor: M. Gavrila
Date of defense:     February 28, 1990, Amsterdam, UvA.
6    Defendant: P. de Vries
Title: Trottering through quantum physics
co-advisor: H. de Raedt
Date of defense:     May 7, 1991, Amsterdam, UvA
7    Defendant: M. B. van der Mark
Title: Propagation of light in disordered media: a search for Anderson localization
Date of defense:     June 14, 1990, Amsterdam, UvA.
8    Defendant: H. J. Bakker
Title: Time-resolved vibrational spectroscopy with picosecond infrared pulses
Date of defense:     October 1, 1991, Amsterda, UvA.
9    Defendant: P. C. M. Planken
Title: Generation and application of ultrashort infrared pulses
Date of defense:     October 2, 1991, Amsterda, UvA.
10    Defendant: R. H. M. Groeneveld
Title: Femtosecond spectroscopy on electrons and phonons in noble metals
co-advisor: co-advisor: R. Sprik
Date of defense:     June 3, 1992, Amsterdam, UvA.
11    Defendant: B. A. van Tiggelen
Title: Multiple scattering and localization of light
co-advisor: co-advisor: A. Tip
Date of defense:     September 29, 1992, Amsterda, UvA.
12    Defendant: R. Kroon
Title: Picosecond spectroscopy on vibrational excitations and excitons in condensed matter
co-advisor: R. Sprik
Date of defense:     October 27, 1993, Amsterda, UvA.
13    Defendant: P. N. den Outer
Title: Multiple light scattering in random discrete media.

Coherent backscattering and imaging

Date of defense:     May 15, 1995, Amsterda, UvA.
14    Defendant: J. F. de Boer
Title: Optical fluctuations on the transmission and reflection of mesoscopic systems
Date of defense:     September 20, 1995, Amsterda, UvA.
15    Defendant: M.J.P. Brugmans
Title: Relaxation kinetics disordered dense phases
Date of defense:     November 16, 1995, Amsterda, UvA.
16    Defendant: D. S. Wiersma
Title: Light in strongly scattering and amplifying random media
co-advisor: M.P. van Albada
Date of defense:     November 21, 1995, Amsterdam, UvA
17    Defendant: G. M. Lankhuijzen
Title: Ionization dynamics of Rydberg atoms in electric fields
co-advisor: L. D. Noordam
Date of defense:     March 14, 1997, Amsterda, UvA.
18    Defendant: D. V. van Coevorden
Title: Light propagation in ordered and disordered media
co-advisor: co-advisor: A. Tip
Date of defense:     May 14, 1997, Amsterdam, UvA.
38    Defendant: R. G. S. El-Dardiry
Title: Sources and gain in photonic random media
Date of defense:     June 20, 2012, Amsterdam, UvA.
39    Defendant: B. Gjonaj
Title: Digital plasmonics: from concept to microscopy
Date of defense:     Planned for July 4, 2012, Amsterdam, UvA.
co-advisor: L. Kuipers

Services to scientific community


1990 - 2001 Editor Physics Letters A

International conferences


Together with Bart van Tiggelen and Diederik Wiersma AL organized the conference "Fifty years of Anderson Localization" in Paris in December 2008. -Speakers included Professors Thouless, Wölfle, John, and Inguscio.

Committee member

AL has been a member of numerous organizations, program committees of conferences, summer-schools and scientific boards (a.o. ETOPIM, OSA MetaMaterials, GDR/CNRS IMCODE, GDR/CNRS MesoImage)


  • Board of the Dutch Physical Society (for 4 years NNV)
  • Organizer Spring meeting of the Dutch Physical Society (NNV, 3 times)
  • Member overseeing Board Condensed Matter division of the Dutch physics foundation FOM (for 5 years)
  • Member of executive board of FOM (most influential position in Dutch physics, for 5 years)
  • Organizer of the main Dutch condensed matter meeting of FOM (Veldhoven) (2 times)
  • Member (often chairman) of at least six nomination committees for hiring new professors
  • Member overseeing board of FOM-Institute for Plasma Physics Rijnhuizen (for 2 years)
  • Director Van der Waals-Zeeman Instituut of Univ. of Amsterdam (for 1 year)
  • Member of the executive physics council Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW, for 3 years)
  • Member of KNAW overseeing board for physics (for 5 years)
  • Member of overseeing board of FOM-institute AMOLF (4 years)
  • Chairman of Lorentz-medal committee Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (2002)
  • Member of Lorentz-medal committee Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences KNAW (2010)
  • FWO (Belgian Science Foundation) member evaluation committee (for three years)

Science Survival


On the basis of experiences with junior scientists at the UvA, at UT and at AMOLF, in continous discussion with the senior group leaders AL has written a book: Survival Guide for Scientists

Amsterdam University Press, 2008, 215 pages,

It is a how-to advice on essential topics such as the foundations for writing scientific texts, presenting data and research information, and the writing and reading of collegial e-mails. Each section is organized by a collection of short rules, outlined and numbered in a logical order as self-explanatory pieces of information—allowing the reader the freedom to study any number of them in any desired order. These concrete guidelines, supplemented by an extensive index, makes it a unique book. Over 4000 copies sold


As a result of the book AL is regularly asked to give presentations on survival in science. Invitations of this kind incldued the Rotterdam Eye Hospital reopening, HBO-students in Groningen, Wetsus in Leeuwarden, medical students in Leiden, and "Verslavingszorg" students in Nijmegen.


AL has started and maintained the blog for junior scientists. This blog professional scientists write about their scientific life. Contributors are scientists in various stages of their career: from junior to senior. The aim is to supply scientists with tips on how to survive in science. This blog is a continuation of the book The Survival Guide for Scientists. The blog is popular between 500 and 1000 pageviews per day and is read and commented on by editors of high-impact journals



AL regulary participates in public scientific discussions. He contributes to joop.nl, the newspaper NRC and his own blog interferenties


  • AL has been until 2004 a bi-weekly columnist for the newspaper Volkskrant for almost 11 years
  • In 2005 he was asked to write an essay for the journal Nature, about any subject he wanted. He decided to write a controversial essay, entitled "Pushing for Power" (Nature 438, 429 (2005)), criticizing the macho-culture of natural science.
  • Contributor to the Vrolijke Wetenschap of the VPRO,