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Fellows Profile
By Tom Godfrey, OSSC Historian

-Eugene K. Thorburn-

(08 May 1919 - 05 Feb 1994)


Eugene K. Thorburn was elected a Fellow of the Optical Society of America in October 1978. He started his career in optics as an optician and shop supervisor at Tinsley Laboratories, where he worked with Harvey Morton from 1939 to 1944. In 1944 and 1945 Gene served in the U.S.Navy. From 1945 until 1950, at the recommendation of OSSC Fellow Al Shurkus, Gene Thorburn was employed by Baush & Lomb as a manufacturing supervisor and then as an optical engineer, while continuing his education at the University of Rochester. He received his BS in Optics in 1950.


Mr. Thorburn returned to the West Coast where at Northrop Corporation, he served as Optical Engineer and Director of the Optical Laboratory. He worked with Paul Halderman and OSSC's first Secretary, Felix Bednarz. In 1951, Mr.Thorburn was one of those primarily responsible for organizing the Southern California section of the Optical Society and was it's first treasurer (1951-52) and third president (1953-54).


In 1953, Mr. Thorburn joined Pacific Mercury Research Center, where he worked with George Raabe. He then was hired by Pacific Optical Corporation in 1994 where he was Vice- President of Engineering until 1961. At that time, he joined Perkin-Elmer as Program Manager for Optical Engineering for the West Coast facility.


In 1964, together with Fred Hansen, Leo Houlihan, Clyde Hall and John Nedham, he founded Optical Instruments Corporation in Buena Park, California. Gene Thorburn was its President until his retirement in 1987, a year after the company was sold.


Mr. Thorburn was best known for his optical designs for aerial reconnaissance lenses, ultra-wide-angle lenses, laser flying spot recorders and for his pioneering work in the development of assembly techniques for fabricating ultra-high resolution lenses. He was a member of the OSA Fabrication & Testing Technical Group and chaired its first Los Angeles meeting. He was a member of SMPTE and a charter member of SPIE.


Eugene K. Thorburn was born in Alberta, Canada on May 8, 1919. He died in Vista, California on February 5, 1994. Gene met his wife, Carol, in a San Francisco area church choir and they were married on August 16, 1942. They have 5 children: Harold, Laura, Margaret, Wendy, and David; and 11 grandchildren. Carol Thorburn now resides in Rancho Mirage, California.