George J. Zissis

In Memoriam: George J. Zissis

January 08, 2009

IN MEMORIAM: GEORGE J. ZISSIS, 1922-2009George Zissis

George J. Zissis, an OSA Fellow who was a research physicist and pioneer in the field of remote sensing, died January 8, 2009 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 86.

Born December 31, 1922 in Lebanon, Indiana, Zissis was the youngest of four children of John George and Georgia Antonakou Zissis. He interrupted his college work at Purdue to serve as a meteorology and photo intelligence officer with the U.S. Army Air Force in England during World War II. After the war, he returned to Purdue University where he completed his master’s and doctoral degrees.

Zissis spent a year as senior scientist with the Westinghouse Atomic Power Division, where he designed power reactors. In 1955, he joined the University of Michigan (UM) Institute of Science and Technology at the Willow Run Laboratories, later the not-for-profit Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM). From 1963 to 1964 he was on leave in Washington, D.C. with the Institute of Defense Analysis. There he was a leader in counterinsurgency task group research and was a member of IDA /ARPA Defender Panel on Optical Discrimination. Upon his return to Ann Arbor, he pursued remote sensing research with IST and lectured within the UM Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department.

Zissis served as the director of the Infrared Information and Analysis (IRIA) Center and head of the IST Infrared Physics Laboratory for five years and later served as chief scientist and technical manager. Among the various projects he directed were an aerial infrared survey of Antarctica and the Ballistic Missile Radiation Analysis Center Project AMOS (the Mt. Haleakala Observatory on Maui).

Zissis received numerous awards and honors during his career. In 1972, the U.S. Department of the Interior presented Zissis with its Public Service Award, citing his contributions as "scientist, educator and humanitarian, and particularly ... his contributions in representing the cause of the department's Earth Resources Observation Satellite (EROS) Program." Zissis was a Fellow of the OSA and also of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and SPIE. He treasured his Purdue's Old Master Award granted in 1966. He was editor and co-author of The Fundamentals of Infrared Technology, co-edited The Infrared Handbook, and authored numerous other publications covering the fields of infrared, optics, ballistic missile radiation, radiometrics and spectroscopy.

Love of theatre was expressed over his lifetime, first in high school debate, then as actor and director in radio and on stage in college, and later in community theatre. It was at the Purdue Playshop that he met and later married Wanda (Nana) Evans. The UM Women's Sunday Theatre group was their favorite activity for many years. In addition to his wife of fifty-five years, Zissis is survived by two daughters, two sons and three granddaughters.

A memorial gathering will be held at a later date.

If you would like to make a memorial contribution to the OSA Foundation in honor of George J. Zissis, please visit

This obituary was contributed by Ann Arbor News Online