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In memoriam: George Zissis

30 March 2009

George J. Zissis, an SPIE Fellow and former Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM)/Univ. of Michigan Institute of Science and Technology (IST) research scientist who pioneered in the field of remote sensing, died 6 January in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 86.

He was born 31 December 1922 in Lebanon, Ind., and earned master and doctoral degrees at Purdue Univ. His studies were interrupted during World War II while he served as a metrology and photo intellingence officer with the U.S. Army Air Force in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Zissis had worked as director, chief scientist, and technical manager at the Infrared Information Analysis Center (IRIA) and the Infrared Physics Laboratory at IST. He also held positions with the Institute of Defense Analysis and Westinghouse during his career. Among projects he directed at IST were an aerial infrared survey of Antarctica and the Ballistic Missile Radiation Analysis Center Project AMOS, the Mt. Haleakala Observatory on Maui.

William L. Wolfe, 1989 President of SPIE, recalls his professional interactions with Zissis: "I first met George when I joined the Infrared Lab at The University of Michigan in 1954. At that time he was head of the Radiometry section, and I was part of it. George was an excellent boss and soon became a good friend. I recall we had weekly sessions looking into various aspects of the field including such things as power spectra and detector performance. Later I became Director of IRIA and George followed me in that. He excelled in making it a real service for the infrared field. George has been hailed as one of the fathers of modern-day infrared, and it is appropriate."

He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the U.S. Department of Interior Public Service Award; authored several reference books and other publications on radiometry, infrared, optics, ballistic missile radiation, and spectometry, including co-editing The Infrared Handbook with William L. Wolfe (published by ERIM and SPIE in 1978). He also served on conference committees and taught professional development courses at SPIE meetings.

He and his wife, Wanda (Nana), pursured a lifelong love of community theatre in their leisure for many years. In addition to his widow, he is survived by daughters Maida Laird of Tampa and Maria (Mimi) Boyle of Houston, sons John Zissis and Christopher Zissis, both of Ann Arbor, and three granddaughters.