Warren J. Smith

In Memoriam: Warren J. Smith

June 19, 2008

OSA Mourns the Loss of Warren J. Smith

Warren J. SmithWarren J. Smith, Chief Scientist Emeritus at Rockwell Collins Kaiser Electro-Optics and a Fellow and past president of OSA, died on June 19, 2008. An OSA member for 65 years, Smith was renowned for his contributions to optical system design and lens design and for his accomplishments as a writer and educator.

Smith was a graduate of the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. He worked for Bausch & Lomb during school and moved to Kodak upon graduation. He spent two years working on the Manhattan Project and then served as Chief Optical Engineer for Simpson Optical Company in Chicago from 1946 to 1959, as Manager of the Optics Section of the Infrared Department at Raytheon, and as Director and Vice-President of R&D at Infrared Industries, later known as Santa Barbara Applied Optics, from 1962-1987. In 1987, Smith was named Chief Scientist at Kaiser Electro-Optics in Carlsbad, CA. He also was active as an independent consultant and teacher.

The focus of Smith’s career was in the design of optical system and lenses. He conceived nearly every type of lens and optical system. A pioneer in using computers for optical design, Smith was among the first scientists to write lens design programs for small vacuum tube computers and an early proponent of remote time-sharing, both of which were the precursors of PC-based programs.

Smith is recognized throughout the optics community as the author of Modern Optical Engineering – The Design of Optical Systems, Modern Lens Design – A Resource Manual, and Practical Optical Systems Layout. A prolific writer, he also contributed to many handbooks, including the Handbook of Military Infrared Technology, which later became the IR Handbook; the Handbook of Optics; the Handbook of IR Technology; and the Mechanical Engineers Systems Handbook. He taught optics courses for OSA, SPIE, the University of Wisconsin and various companies and government agencies worldwide.

Smith served on the OSA Board of Directors from 1978-1981. He was a member of the OSA Engineering Council, the Finance and Nominating Committees, and the Frederic Ives Medal Committee. He also served as chair of the Joseph Fraunhofer Award Committee. In addition, Smith was a Founder and President of the OSA Chicago Section and a Director of the Optical Society of Southern California (OSSC).

Smith was the 2001 recipient of the OSA Joseph Fraunhofer Award/Robert M. Burley Prize, which he received for his accomplishments in “providing a lifetime effort wherein he detailed the very essence of practical optical engineering and applied optics, with profoundly understandable contributions benefitting in large measure every optical engineer worldwide.” He was awarded the Institute of Optics Gold Medal and he was a Fellow and past National President of the SPIE.

Funeral/memorial arrangements have not yet been announced.

Tributes to Warren J. Smith

“Warren was a friend to all optical engineers, and especially students of optical engineering.”

Susan Houde-Walter
2005 OSA President


Warren was chair of the Southern California Optical Society and always a gentleman to me.

In the late-1970's, he called and asked me to give a talk before this group, pointing out that I would be the first woman to do so. I was not particularly impressed with this as the reason to be asked -- I had hoped that they would want to hear about the exciting Optical Bistability research that I was carrying out.

Nonetheless, I agreed and gave a talk to about 20 folks. I finished with a flourish and asked for questions. The first was a statement to the effect of: “I think I speak for all of us when I say that I feel threatened to hear a woman who knows more than I.” I was floored, but it was Warren who saved the day. He said “They have always known more than we do, but we haven't let them show it!”

I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for this important member of our society.

Elsa M. Garmire
1993 OSA President