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In memoriam: Joe Geary, author and educator, expert in optical testing and lens design

25 April 2017

Joe Geary | Image Courtesy of NASA
Joe Geary

SPIE Fellow Joseph Martin Geary, 73, Professor Emeritus at the Center for Applied Optics at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, frequent SPIE author, and former manager of the optics group supporting space borne optical instrumentation for Goddard Space Flight Center, died 11 April in Huntsville, Alabama.

Joe, as he was known, received his BA in physics from LaSalle College in 1966, and his MS and PhD, both in optics, from the University of Arizona's Optical Sciences Center in 1975 and 1984 respectively. He spent the first 18 years of his career in government service including eight years at the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster, Pennsylvania, measuring aerial reconnaissance lenses. He later worked at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, conducting High Energy Laser (HEL) research at the Airborne Laser Lab.

After leaving civil service in 1985, he joined the staff of United Technologies Optical Systems where he worked on advanced optical metrology and HEL beam diagnostics for the MIRACL laser.

In 1991 he became manager of the Optics Group at Swales Aerospace which supported the development and testing of space borne optical instrumentation for Goddard Space Flight Center. One significant mission during this period was the group's involvement in the Hubble Recovery Program.

"I knew Joe Geary since we were students together at Arizona. He had many years of industry experience, which made his insights all the more valuable," recalls current SPIE President Glenn Boreman. It was these experiences which led to the publication of his texts on wavefront sensing and optical testing.

Geary wrote four well-regarded and still popular books about lens design, wavefront sensors and optical testing, two of the books were published with SPIE Press. The tutorial text, Introduction to Optical Testing, was a companion text to the course by the same name that Geary taught at SPIE conferences.

"His books made very significant contributions to education - his text on Introduction to Lens Design is the standard for teaching students to use Zemax; and his text on Optical Testing was an instant classic owing to its thorough coverage and clear explanations," notes Boreman. He also authored over 50 papers in refereed journals, including Optical Engineering, and held 12 patents.

In 1996, Geary joined the senior research staff of the Center for Applied Optics (CAO) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), serving as the Interim Director from 2003 to 2005. His principal activities were in the areas of optical testing, optical metrology, wavefront sensors, lens and optical system design. It was to the CAO that Joe brought the collimator and T-bar nodal slide he used in his first job testing surveillance lenses, providing a critical instrument for both research and teaching at UAH.

"Working with Joe over the past 20 years was a great pleasure," SPIE Member Patrick Reardon says about his co-worker at UAH. "His expertise and insights were top notch, and he injected fun into everything he did - teaching, research, even administration! Everyone who knew Joe has some great stories to tell. I'm sure the students who took his Lens Design and Optical Testing classes will never forget lectures given by Starfleet Commander Geary."

He was a major part of the UAH team that led the cryogenic optical testing of the candidate lightweight mirror technologies proposed for the James Webb Space Telescope. Adds Boreman, "his leadership of the Center for Applied Optics at Huntsville came at a crucial time for the Center. He will be greatly missed by the optics community."

He was made an SPIE Fellow in 2009.

Joe is survived by his wife Susan, son Jason, daughters Jennifer and Samantha, and seven grandchildren.