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Optical Design & Engineering

In Memoriam: James Harrington

SPIE Newsroom
20 June 2018

SPIE Fellow and Past President (2002) James A. Harrington died on 20 June. He was 76.

A distinguished professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Rutgers University, Harrington's scientific achievements include the invention of the hollow glass waveguides (HGWs), created at Rutgers by Harrington and his students and one of the university's most actively licensed technologies. HGWs deliver infrared laser power and are used in fiber links for spectroscopic and thermometric applications.

Other work by Harrington includes the development of diffusing-tip silica fibers for use in photodynamic therapy and prostate surgery; growing single-crystal sapphire fibers using a laser-heated pedestal; and the development of infrared fibers for use in military warning receivers.

Harrington's forays into the commercial world included a stint as director of infrared fiber operations at Heraeus LaserSonics, where he oversaw research and development of fiber-optics for delivering infrared laser power in surgical applications.

SPIE Fellow James Harrington of Rutgers

"Professor Jim Harrington was a major contributor to the optics and photonics community, a strong believer in the value of professional associations," says SPIE Fellow and former CEO Eugene Arthurs. "He played many roles with SPIE, and continued in leadership positions well after he was president of the Society in 2002."

Arthurs adds that Harrington was a pioneer Jefferson Fellow with what was a somewhat technophobic US State Department. He saw the importance of educating government in science and technology.

"It was a pleasure to work with Jim," says Arthurs. "In addition to his strong technical background from industry and academe, he managed to bring lightness to every issue. He was a member of the SPIE Financial Advisory Committee for many years including 2018. Jim was also Treasurer for ICO until 2017 and made diligent efforts with ICO to support the global optics community. This is a sad loss, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family."

In 2014, Harrington was awarded the SPIE Gold Medal for 30 years of pioneering R&D in specialty fiber optics and IR optical materials. This work was "difficult and distinguished, but often unrecognized," according to SPIE Fellow M. J. Soileau, Distinguished Professor of Optics, Physics, and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Central Florida.

Harrington's work in this arena "has been a major factor in the successful application of infrared lasers to medicine and national defense," Soileau noted at the time.

Soileau adds that Harrington was a great friend and citizen of the optics and photonics community. "I had the pleasure of knowing him from the early ‘70s as he moved from U of Alabama to Hughes Research Labs and then to Rutgers, says Soileau. "In the spring of 2008 he spent a sabbatical at CREOL and as such contributed to our growth and repetition."

As I remember Jim I cannot recall him ever being cross with anyone, rather always with a warm smile, and bright interested eyes in all encounters. Jim had a Joie de vivre attitude in his science and his interaction with people. And of course he was a great dancer! It is sad to loose such a friend, but there is comfort in thinking of his contributions to our discipline and his infectious smile."

An SPIE member since 1995, Harrington's SPIE leadership roles included serving on the Board of Directors; the Ethics Committee; and the Publications and the Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy (ESTeP) committees, which he chaired for several years. Harrington also served as a SPIE course instructor, SPIE Student Chapter adviser, and editor for the SPIE Press Tutorial Text series.

"Jim had a great understanding of SPIE that developed during his many years of service and his views always reflected a rational and well-thought-out perspective," says SPIE Fellow and 2018 Vice President John Greivenkamp of the University of Arizona. "Jim had significant impact on SPIE and his participation and impact continued even after his term as SPIE president. Jim was a good friend to me and to many in SPIE. He (and his wit and wisdom) will be truly missed."

SPIE Fellow and Past President (2001) Richard Hoover of Athens State University served with Harrington on the SPIE Board of Directors and Executive Committee for several years. "Jim was a brilliant scientist and a most distinguished and kind gentleman who always carried himself with composure and great dignity," says Hoover. "He was soft-spoken and his wisdom and guidance was very much appreciated. Professor Harrington will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege to know him."


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