André Maréchal


OSA Mourns the Loss of Honorary Member André Maréchal

André Maréchal, an Honorary Member and Fellow of OSA and the Director general of the French Institut d’Optique from 1968-1983, died on October 14, 2007, a few weeks short of his 91st birthday.

Maréchal was elected to Honorary Membership, OSA’s highest honor, in 1986 in recognition of his work in the areas of coherence, diffraction, geometrical optics, image formation, image processing and for his contributions to the international optics community.  He is credited with pioneering work that influenced the development of computer programs for the optimization of lens designs and for advancing the automatic optimization of optical systems. He strongly contributed to the promotion of Fourier optics and analog optical computing.

Maréchal was a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Ecole Supérieure d’Optique, the optical engineering school of Institut d’Optique.  He received a doctor of science degree in engineering from the University of Paris in 1948.  His thesis research investigated the combined effects of diffraction and aberrations and includes derivation of what is now known as the Maréchal criterion.

Maréchal was appointed a Maître de Conférences and then a full Professor at the Paris Faculté des Sciences in 1950 and 1955, respectively. From 1960 through 1967, he served as “délégué général à la recherche scientifique et technique,” at that time the highest scientific position in the French Ministry in charge of Research. He then served as the third Director general of Institut d’Optique from 1968 through 1983. During that period, the transfer of Institut d’Optique from Paris to Orsay was completed.

André Maréchal lectured at the Institut d’Optique throughout his academic career and is remembered for his teaching skills by his many former students.  While asked to assume various academic and managerial responsibilities, he remained active in research as a thesis advisor to several scientists who pioneered important subjects, including the calculation of incoherent Optical Transfer Functions (W.H. Steel); partial coherence (R. Slansky); and early electromagnetic optics work on rigorous grating diffraction (G.W. Stroke, R. Petit, and A. Wirgin).  A later contribution by Maréchal, as the advisor of G. Fortunato, was to interferometric spectroscopy for the detection of pollutants.

He was the author or co-author of three books:  Etudes des Effets combines de la Diffraction et des Aberrations geometriques (1948); Imagerie géométrique, aberrations (1950); and Diffraction, structure des images, influence des aberrations (with Maurice Françon, 1960), probably the first textbook on Fourier Optics that covers aberrations and analog optical processing.

Maréchal also investigated new algorithmic approaches to optical design, a track of research that lead to the creation of the company CERCO, where he served as a scientific advisor.

A member of the French Academy of Sciences since 1981, Maréchal was awarded many international honors for his work in optics, including OSA’s C.E.K. Mees Medal (1977); the Thomas Young Medal of the Physical Society of London (1965), and the SPIE Gold Medal (1989).  He was an officer of the Legion of Honour and a commander of the National Order of Merit and served as president of the International Commission for Optics from 1962-66.

Maréchal devoted his career to promoting the international aspects of scientific life. He will be remembered by his many friends in the worldwide optics community as a simple and modest personality and a productive scientist who eminently contributed to the field.

This obituary was contributed by Dr. Pierre H. Chavel, a former student and friend of André Maréchal.