University of Rochester

Eminent Optical Scientist Named to New Endowed Professorship

July 1, 2002

James R. Fienup, a senior research scientist at the information analysis company Veridian Systems, has been appointed the Robert E. Hopkins Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester. Fienup will be the first to hold the new endowed chair named in honor of Hopkins, who directed the Institute of Optics from 1954 to 1965, and who is considered one of the institute's most influential figures.

"We are very honored to have Jim Fienup joining the institute faculty," says Wayne Knox, director of the Institute of Optics. "He will add tremendously to several of our programs ranging from fundamentals of imaging to applications in biomedical optics and optical engineering. Our faculty, students, and many of our collaborators in other departments are excited to have the opportunity to work closely with him."

At the University, Fienup plans to develop algorithms that will allow researchers on the ground to use starlight to "tune" the mirrors of certain space-born telescopes, such as NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope that will replace the Hubble Space Telescope a few years from now. Further aims include determining how other types of telescopes can achieve the best images for their particular design, how the human eye may be made to see even better, and exploring unconventional ways of creating images with lasers.

"Coming to the University of Rochester gives me the opportunity to teach students and guide them in research," says Fienup. "The research aspects of the position will be similar to what I have done in the past, but with greater emphasis on basic research and increased flexibility to pursue emerging topics."

Since joining the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan in 1975, which was later bought by Veridian Systems Corporation, Fienup has helped develop techniques to recapture lost optical information, used to help fix the Hubble Space Telescope's infamous nearsightedness when it was first launched. He has also worked on ways to process certain complex radar signals to detect moving targets and correct for motion-induced image smearing, as well as on biomedical image processing. Lately he has been working on shedding light on the way image quality is affected by new kinds of telescopes called "sparse-aperture" systems, one of which NASA plans to eventually launch to look for Earth-like planets around other stars.

Fienup earned both his master's and doctoral degrees in applied physics from Stanford University in 1975. He is a fellow of the Optical Society of America and of the International Society for Optical Engineering, and is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He won the International Prize in Optics for 1983 from the International Commission for Optics, and the Rudolf Kingslake Medal and Prize for 1979 from the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers. Fienup is currently the editor in chief of the Journal of the Optical Society of America A.

"I am delighted that such a distinguished scholar as Jim Fienup will be the first occupant of the Hopkins Chair," says Thomas J. LeBlanc, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the College Faculty. "This chair was created through the generosity of institute alumni to honor one of the most influential faculty members in the history of the institute."

Professor Emeritus Robert E. Hopkins stands as one of the Institute of Optics' most significant figures-as an innovator in the field of lens and optical-system design, and as a teacher and mentor for hundreds of students. In the early 1950s, Hopkins was among the first to exploit the computer as a tool for handling problems in lens and optical-system design, and among the first to recognize both the important role the laser would play in the future of subjects like solid state physics and quantum physics. In 1953, he co-founded Tropel Corporation.

"Bob Hopkins could look at a lens and tell if it would work," says Duncan Moore, professor of the Institute of Optics and one-time student of Hopkins'. "He shaped assignments to encourage a hands-on approach."

In recognition of Hopkins' achievements, a committee of friends and colleagues raised more than $1.5 million to endow the new position. Typically a chair is funded with a single gift. Hundreds of gifts, however, were made for the Hopkins chair, serving as evidence of the respect the optics community has for the professor emeritus.