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In memoriam: Warren J. Smith

Warren J. Smith , widely regarded as one of the most influential leaders in the optical design and engineering field, died on 19 June in California. He was 85. Smith was a Fellow and Past President of SPIE, and since 1987 had been at Rockwell Collins Kaiser Electro-Optics, where he was Chief Scientist Emeritus.

As author of Modern Optical Engineering, first published by McGraw-Hill in 1966, and now co-published by SPIE and in its 4th edition, Smith was one of the best-known authors in the field. He also authored Modern Lens Design and Practical Optical System Layout.

"Warren was a mentor who always listened, and was always very supportive," said Max Riedl, who worked with Smith at Infrared Industries in Santa Barbara, CA. "A clear and critical thinker, he was never satisfied with 'just' solving an optical problem. During the 23 years we worked together, I never saw any of his designs that did not bring the predicted results."

Born on 17 August 1922, Smith graduated from Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. After graduation, he worked for Eastman Kodak in Oakridge, TN. In 1946 he became Chief Optical Engineer at Simpson Optical Manufacturing Company in Chicago, IL, and in 1959 he moved Raytheon in Santa Barbara, CA, where he was Manager of the Optics Section until 1962. From 1962 until 1983 he was Director of R&D at Infrared Industries in Santa Barbara, and Vice President of R&D at Santa Barbara Applied Optics until 1987.

Smith served in numerous leadership positions for SPIE, taught popular short courses for the Society and other organizations for many years, and was instrumental in helping develop the Society's role as an international organization. He was the recipient of the SPIE Gold Medal of the Society and Directors' Award, and was a Fellow and Past President of the Optical Society of America.

Smith was honored with a tribute conference and proceedings volume as part of the SPIE Optics and Photonics symposium in San Diego in 2005. See comments and photos excerpted from Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 5865 Tribute to Warren Smith: A Legacy in Lens Design and Optical Engineering. (PDF file, 700k) 

Video interview with Warren Smith:QuickTime|Windows Media Player

Warren Smith was interviewed by Robert E. Fischer for the SPIE 50th anniversary collection in 2004. Here, he talks about how he got started in optics, and his biggest challenge in optical design. (Length 4:07)

Recent articles by Warren J. Smith:

Engineering an optical system --
Choosing the right starting point opens up a world of designs

From oemagazine July 2002

Teaching an old mirror new tricks --
The Mangin mirror provides optical designers with a host of options for solving modern problems

From oemagazine June 2003

Rose is a Rose is a Rose --
So long as the peak-to-valley wavefront error remains at about a quarter wave, the type of aberration producing the wavefront error is immaterial

From oemagazine July 2004

Aberration Theory at Work --
The Schmidt system demonstrates tradeoffs in optical design

From oemagazine August 2005