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Fellows Profile
By Tom Godfrey, OSSC Historian

-Tom Harris-


Tom Harris grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.  Inspired first by a science teacher and then a physics teacher in high school, he went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison as a physics major.  His curiosity in all phases of physics increased but a fascination with optics and astronomy took over.  In his spare time he ground, polished and figured an 8 inch telescope mirror and later aluminized it in a physics lab course, discovering all of the important details about static discharge cleaning, tungsten boats and coils, allowing for the dimming view of the coils as the aluminum coated the bell jar, and cleaning it off before the next run, according to the lab science of that day!


Beyond the basic traditional optics course offered then, he found A. Bouwer's book on concentric optics and discovered this strange and wonderful field of optical design.  In taking all of the undergraduate courses in astronomy Tom determined that the instruments were his strongest interest and a grad student pointed him to the University of Rochester Institute of Optics for graduate study.  Through a good friend, Tom got a summer job at Bell & Howell Company in the Optical Design Department giving great preparation for his U of R studies the next year.


At Rochester, Tom's exposure to the teachings of the staff, especially Rudolph Kingslake and Bob Hopkins who are friends and mentors to this day, fed his understanding and appreciation for optics and optical design.  In those days optical calculations were done on desk calculators, and there were many nights of finger numbing exercise until 4:00 a.m. (by choice)!


Following his masters work, in 1953, Tom picked Bell & Howell as his career choice because they were on the threshold of computerizing third order and ray trace calculations, under the direction of Arthur Cox.  Tom counts his ten years in this stimulating environment of optical design, mathematics, and the new art of computer programming as the greatest learning laboratory he could have had.  Participating in the transition from plug boards, to programming in machine language, then assembly language and finally in modern languages, emphasized the details of numerical analysis that wring out speed and accuracy, beneficial even today.


In 1960, Tom transferred to Pasadena.  He counts two of Southern California's leading optical engineers, Gene Thorburn and Warren Smith, as early and lifelong friends from those days.


Tom founded Optical Research Associates in 1963 as an optical engineering services firm, and began the developments that led to optical software programs, first for ORA use and, in the 1970s, for use by others.  He focused on innovations in automatic design of optical systems and pioneered the concept of basing a merit function for lens optimization on image quality components only, solving for constraints exactly.  In 1964, he applied such methods to automatic zoom lens design.  Later he extended ORA's programs with tolerancing features, environmental analysis, 2-D lens drawings and 3-D solid displays, narcissus and ghost calculations, and partial dispersion simulation of special glasses for optimization.


Optical Research Associates started growing in 1965, when Darryl Gustafson (OSSC President in 1989-90) joined Tom.  The early years were focused on doing lens design for many Southern California companies, and developing the program which eventually became CODE V®.  In 1970 others had heard of their program's capability and began traveling to the Pasadena facility to use it, some from as far away as Chicago and Japan.  In 1975, CODE V was packaged with a minicomputer as a turnkey system, and thus began its odyssey to the ubiquitous workstation and PC program of today.


Since then the company has grown to 62 staff members.  Tom regards building a climate for creativity and attracting talented engineers, managers and staff as one of his greatest pleasures.


Tom served for 11 years as Treasurer of SPIE-The International Society of Optical Engineering and in other capacities for both the Optical Society of America and SPIE.  He holds five patents and has published numerous papers on optical design.  He is a Fellow of both Societies and has received honors over the years, including the OSA Joseph Fraunhofer Award in 1990, SPIE's Presidents Award in 1992, and co-recipient (with Darryl) of the SPIE Technology Achievement Award for the development of CODE V in 1984.  In 1995 he was made a Life Member of SPIE.


ORA has a long history of support for OSSC as a corporate member.  Tom served as Arrangements Chairman for OSSC in the late 60s and ORA staff members over the years have served in many capacities, including our 1997-98 President, Dave Hasenauer.


Tom met his future wife, Marcie, in church and high school and married 8 years later in 1953 after completing college.  Their two sons live in Azusa, with their families, including six children.



Gold Medal of the Society (SPIE) 


 "The Gold Medal is the highest honor that the Society bestows.  It is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding engineering or scientific accomplishments in optics, electro-optics, or photographic technologies or applications.  The recipient(s) shall have made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of relevant technology.  Honorarium $5,000."


"The 1998 Gold Medal was presented to Thomas I. Harris, Optical Research Associates (Pasadena, California) in recognition of a lifetime achievement in the field of lens design as well as his continuous professional association with SPIE." (Mr. Tom Harris is an OSSC Fellow, elected in 1997 and presented at an OSSC meeting held at the Long Beach Convention Center in conjunction with the National OSA meeting held there in October, 1997.)


Dr. Paul Schenker, SPIE 1998 Vice President, presenting the Glod Medal award plaque to Tom Harris.


This Gold Medal has been awarded annually since 1977.  The 1985 recipient was OSSC Fellow, Warren J. Smith.



Tom Harris

CEO and Chief Scientist

Optical Researsh Associates

(626) 795-9101


Corporate Address:  14271 Jeffrey Road, Suite 136
Irvine, California 92620
The OSSC is a non-profit 501(C)3 tax exempt corporation.
The OSSC does NOT endorse candidates for public office or contribute to political candidates or campaigns.

Updated: 4 September 2020
Added 8 September VOSA Meeting