H. John Caulfield

In Memoriam: H. John Caulfield

January 31, 2012

In Memoriam: H. John Caulfield, 1936-2012


H. John Caulfield, retired Chief Scientist at Alabama A&M University Research Institute and an OSA Fellow Emeritus, died on 31 January 2012. He was 75.

Caulfield was noted for his pioneering contributions to the fields of holography and information optics. He popularized the field as curator of exhibits and through his numerous articles for the general public, most notably a 1984 National Geographic cover story, "The Wonder of Holography,” that was read by more than 25 million people.

Born 25 March 1936, Caulfield received his BA in Physics from Rice University (1958) and his PhD in Physics from Iowa State University (1962). While working at the Texas Instruments Central Research Laboratory, he was inspired by a talk on the new field of holography given by Emmett Leith, the inventor of off-axis holography. Caulfield’s ensuing career focused on holography, metrology, and coherent optics. From 1985 through 1996 he served as founding director of the Center for Applied Optics at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Later he became Distinguished Research Professor at Fisk University and Chief Scientist at Alabama A&M University, both historically black universities, where he worked with students to introduce them to the excitement of research.

Caulfield wrote 41 book chapters and more than 250 refereed journal papers on holography and related fields, edited 14 books, and held a wide range of patents. He was a Fellow of the OSA and SPIE, and he received numerous awards and honors during his 50-year career, including the SPIE Dennis Gabor Award, President's Award, and Governors' Award. In 2005 he was awarded the SPIE Gold Medal, that society’s highest honor, in recognition of his numerous contributions to holography, imaging, optical computing, optical logic and his numerous inventions including, but not limited to, local reference beam holography, coherence gated imaging, generalized matched filters, optical linear algebra, fuzzy optical metrology, artificial color, and passive conservative interferometric logic gates. Byte magazine named Caulfield as one of the 63 most influential people in computers; Fortune magazine called him a pioneer in Optical Computing, and Business Week called him “One of America's 10 Top Scientists” for his work in Image and Signal Processing.

Caulfield’s colleagues remember him not only for his many important technical contributions to the field, but also for his continual efforts to bring people together, to establish collaborations, to facilitate networking for himself and for others, and for honoring others more than himself. It is noteworthy that of his 250-plus refereed papers, virtually all were written with coauthors. He made a point of his networking. “I am walking the halls talking with people,” he would explain to conference attendees, making it clear that he considered networking to be every bit as important a part of his activities as listening to technical talks.

Caulfield was a devoted husband and father who took great pride in the work of his wife Jane and daughter Kim. Together, they raised sheep for many years at their Far Out Farm in Cornersville, Tennessee. The family will hold a memorial gathering at the Baptist Church in Cornersville, TN, on 18 February 2012.

A tribute from Caulfield’s colleagues will appear in an upcoming issue of OPN.

If you would like to make a memorial donation to the OSA Foundation in honor of H. John Caulfield, please visit www.osa-foundation.org/give.

Tributes to H. John Caulfield

John was one of the fathers of coherent optics and an inexhaustible resource of new and original ideas. His hundreds of publications encompass a wide scope of subjects. His initial interests in coherent optics spread out into signal processing, computing, vision, brain research and many other areas. It was always a great experience and pleasure working with him and being inspired by his enthusiasm and optimism. We all lost a great scientist and a good friend who will be missed by many of us.

Joseph Shamir
Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Electrical Engineering Dept.


John was a fixture at OSA and SPIE meetings. You could always count on him being there, and on his upbeat and positive outlook on his field and on life in general. He was extremely generous to others - he was one of the most frequent nominators of candidates for Fellow status and for various awards of both societies. I hadn't realized how much I will miss John's presence until I heard of his passing; all of us who knew John well will miss him for years to come.

Joseph W. Goodman
1992 OSA President


OSA Awards & Distinctions

  • Fellow