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Nicholas George’s role as mentor celebrated in endowed optics professorship

September 14, 2015
group posing for a photoFrom left to right: Institute of Optics Director Xi-Cheng Zhang, President Joel Seligman, Professor Nicholas George, Carol George, Milton Chang, and Professor Duncan Moore.

The University of Rochester has announced the creation of a new professorship in optics that will recognize Professor Emeritus Nicholas George and his influence in the world of optics and on his students.

The Nicholas George Endowed Professorship in Optics was established by a gift from Milton Chang with an additional commitment from Joseph W. Goodman, the William Ayer Professor Emeritus at Stanford University. Chang and Goodman made their contributions out of a mutual desire to express their respect and admiration for George.

“Two years ago we were delighted to establish the first endowed graduate student scholarship in honor of Professor Nicholas George. We are now very pleased to establish the Nicholas George Endowed Professorship to honor him for his lifetime dedication and achievement to the Institute of Optics,” said Xi-Cheng Zhang, director of the institute and the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics. “During his tenure as director of the institute, he had a big impact on the quality of the research and education here. His own success with securing research funding – an important measure of a scholar’s work – remains unsurpassed among his colleagues. Nick is also a great colleague and a great mentor. Over the years, many of his students have gone on to become leaders in the field of photonics and optics. I have often thought I would have been lucky to be one of his students! In addition, he has always been an involved member of the institute, always willing to offer helpful advice and valuable suggestions.”

George pioneered basic research in holography with the discovery of the holographic stereogram. He also invented the ring-wedge photo detector, and developed the first robot vision device to sort medical X-rays, a long-standing challenge in the field. Additionally, he is credited with being the first person to develop a theory for the space and wavelength dependence of speckle (a pattern that appears when many waves of the same frequency, for example from a laser, interfere), which has been applied to remote sensing of satellites and space debris.

Chang, who was George’s student at the California Institute of Technology for five years in the 1960s, described George as his “role model during the formative years” of his career.

“Professor George’s knowledge is technically very deep and also very broad,” said Chang, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who is an expert in laser technology. “I learned not only theory—from electromagnetism to quantum electronics—from him, but also how to build and engineer scientific equipment.”

Even after Chang earned his doctorate, George continued to serve as his mentor by helping him secure his first job, providing career guidance, and stimulating his interest in the business world. Reflecting on his Caltech days, Chang believes George’s most enduring gift to his students was the encouragement he gave them to think critically and independently. “When you asked him a question, he never just answered it,” said Chang. “He would go to the board with you and help you work it out.”

George’s energy has also been a source of inspiration for Chang. “He was still teaching into his 80s,” said Chang. “I’d like to emulate that.”

Over the course of George’s long teaching career he advised more than 50 graduate thesis students. In honor of his commitment to graduate education, the Nicholas George Endowed Fellowship in Optics was established at Rochester in 2013.

Named professor emeritus in 2015, George previously served as the Marie C. Wilson and Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Electronic Imaging, professor of optics, and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University for almost 38 years. In addition, George was the founding director of the University’s Center for Electronic Imaging Systems. From 1977 until 1981, he served as director of the Institute of Optics, where he significantly expanded the Industrial Associates program.

George received a BS degree with highest honors from the University of California–Berkeley, an MS degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, and a PhD degree in electrical engineering and physics from the California Institute of Technology.

After graduation from Caltech, George joined the faculty there and also served as a consultant to Director George Smith at the Hughes Malibu Research Laboratories.  Just after Javan, Bennet and Herriot reported the first successful gas laser that they developed at the Bell Telephone Laboratories and which launched the laser age, George completed a joint He-Ne laser project for Caltech and Hughes. He mentored 24 doctoral scholars at Caltech before joining the Rochester faculty in 1977 as director of the Institute of Optics where he mentored an additional 26 doctoral scholars.

Chang has served as president of Newport and New Focus. He incubated several companies resulting in six IPOs and seven acquisitions, all of which succeeded. He is a Caltech trustee and is on the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies. He was on the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and also the authoring committee of the National Academies’ Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation. He regularly writes a column for Laser Focus World and for the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society.

Chang earned his BS engineering degree with highest honors from the University of Illinois and a PhD from Caltech. He also attended the Harvard Owner/President Management Program and was a member of the Young President Organization. He is a fellow of IEEE, the Optical Society, and the Laser Institute of America, and past president of IEEE Photonics Society and the Laser Institute of America. He is a member of the Committee of 100, a group of prominent Chinese Americans founded “to address significant, complex issues pertaining to Americans of Chinese descent and U.S.-China relations.”

Goodman, who is also supporting the professorship, was a professor at Stanford University until he retired in 2001. Goodman’s fields of interest during his career have overlapped with those of George: holography, optical information processing, digital image processing, statistical problems in optics, optical switching, and speckle phenomena.  His early work focused on noise and nonlinearities in holography, electronic detection and digital reconstruction of holograms, and the statistical properties of optical speckle patterns.

Goodman has received numerous awards from the IEEE, the ASEE, OSA, and SPIE, including the highest awards given by the latter two societies.

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