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In memoriam: Douglas Goodman, optical physicist

29 May 2012

SPIE Fellow Douglas Goodman,Douglas Goodman JPEG 65, died on 14 May in Memphis, Tennessee. A born scientist, Goodman brought his enthusiasm and humor to everything he did, and helped to spread his love of optics through creative demonstrations for young people.

Goodman received his PhD at the University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center in 1979, under Roland Shack. He worked on imaging with partial coherence, pursuing a fruitful research career in optical physics, at IBM, Polaroid and at Corning Tropel in Rochester, where he was Senior Scientist. His broad knowledge and abundant creativity spawned many technical innovations and put his name on scores of patents. He reluctantly retired in 2007 as a result of the Parkinson's disease that struck him in the prime of his working life.

At Polaroid in 1993, Bill Plummer got him interested in optomechanical design, "and he was a whiz at it," said Plummer, now president of WTP Optics. "When he dived into kinematic design, with deterministic techniques such as placing cylinders in vee-blocks, he was so excited that he said he wanted to start a new religion based on that." (Goodman authored a few conference papers on the subject and at least one heavy tome is still available online:"Cylinders in Vs.")

Goodman's formidable mind was balanced by an easygoing and self-effacing manner. Few scientists have worn their intellect so lightly. He believed that curiosity was a natural human trait and that science was open to anyone willing to look at the world and ask questions. In the latter part of his career he became very active in optics education, and especially enjoyed giving presentations to groups of young people, demonstrating the principles of his science with an ordinary classroom overhead projector.

He will be remembered by family, friends, and colleagues for his gentle personality, his bold, unique mind, and his outrageous sense of humor.

"Doug was one of the finest optical engineers I have worked with, and I have worked with many of the best," said Plummer. "For him it all seemed to be great fun, and he accomplished a lot."

Goodman's humor and his love of teaching was evident in several articles he contributed to the SPIE publication OE Reports in the 1990s (see links below). A few selected quotes:

  • "It is often the case that the more we know about something, the more difficult it is to define it. We all once understood what a light ray is -- then we learned about wave optics. Now, we don't quite know anymore what a ray is and we may be slightly embarrassed that something so indispensible is so unreal."
  • "The kids investigate the equipment, moving about at their own rate. They ask questions, explore, and try their own juxtapositions of the apparatus. It is pleasing to see them looking at things with fresh eyes, trying things that we pros would never think to try."
  • "The kids have no respect! They will ask you anything. They will make you look bad. They will make you realize how little like Richard Feynman you are."

Goodman was credited with nearly 50 patents, and also served for many years as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Rochester Institute of Optics. In the 1990s he compiled a bibliography of classical optics with nearly 1,500 entries.

Goodman is survived by his wife, Carolyn Wenk, and his daughter, Sarah, as well as his mother, two brothers, and one sister. The family suggests a contribution to the American Parkinson Disease Association or a charity of the donor's choice.

Articles by Doug Goodman from OE Reports: