John B. Abbiss

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In Memoriam: John B. Abbiss, 1931-2010

John B Abbiss

Dr. John B. Abbiss, aged 78, died suddenly from heart failure on Wednesday 23rd of June 2010 at his home in Irvine, California.

After receiving Bachelor degrees in Physics and Mathematics in 1952 and 1953, respectively, from the University of Wales at Cardiff, Dr. Abbiss joined the Guided Weapons Division of the former Bristol Aircraft Company (now part of British Aerospace) as a development engineer. He obtained a Masters degree in Physics, on Theory of the Solid State, in 1965 from the University of Wales. That same year he joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough (U.K.), where he developed laser anemometry techniques for high-speed wind-tunnel applications. The first-ever quantitative studies of supersonic flow with a photon correlation laser anemometer were carried out by his team at Farnborough in 1972. Subsequent development of this method for a wide range of applications, from highly turbulent jets and wake flows to transonic and supersonic separated boundary layers, included an extensive study of information extraction from photon-limited signals. He subsequently obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Surrey (U.K.) in 1982, on Photon Correlation Techniques. His investigations led to the development of innovative mathematical techniques for solving inverse problems, with applications such as spectral estimation, band-limited signal extrapolation and restoration of noisy images degraded by system aberrations and diffractive blurring.

Dr. Abbiss joined Titan Spectron, Costa Mesa, California, in 1985. His activities there included the design and development of software and instrumentation for laser velocimetry and optical spectroscopy in ground based and airborne sensor systems, and the further development of advanced digital techniques for signal and image recovery in satellite surveillance, including their implementation in neural network form. In 1995, Dr. Abbiss left Titan Spectron and formed his own consultancy, Singular Systems, in Irvine, California, specializing in innovative algorithms for image interpretation, restoration and super-resolution enhancement. In 2000, he joined MetroLaser, Inc., also in Irvine, where he was involved in a range of applications in holography, interferometry and spectral imaging, often with an emphasis on solving inverse problems with varying sensitivity to noise.

Dr. Abbiss was the author or co-author of 15 journal publications and some 40 conference contributions, mainly in the fields of theoretical and applied optics. He has co-edited three books and holds three patents on instrumentation for optical airborne sensors.

Dr. Abbiss was an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (U.K.) since 1966 and a Fellow since 1985, an emeritus member of the Optical Society of America (OSA), a senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a member of the Institute of Physics (U.K.) and of the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE).

Outside of his scientific and professional activities, Dr. Abbiss' varied interests included music (he was an accomplished pianist), chess, collecting books on topics from astronomy to philosophy, and exploring the many national parks in North America.

John is survived by his sister, Jean, his wife, Simone, daughter Hélène, sons Christopher and Richard, and grandchildren Mateo and Chloe.

If you would like to make a memorial donation to the OSA Foundation in honor of Dr. John B. Abbiss, please visit

This obituary was contributed by colleague and friend Bauke Heeg, on behalf of the many people who have known John and who will remember his unwavering enthusiasm for life in general, his passion for scientific inquiry and his kind and joyful manner.