In Memoriam: John Greivenkamp

04 February 2022
Karen Thomas

John Greivenkamp with telescope from OSC Museum of OpticsSPIE Fellow and Past President John Greivenkamp, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona's (UA) Wyant College of Optical Sciences (OSC), passed away on 29 January. He was 67.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Greivenkamp received his BA in physics and mathematics from Thomas More College in 1976. He received his MS and PhD degrees in optical sciences from UA in 1976 and 1980, respectively.

As he noted in a 1980 interview with OSC, after choosing optics for his graduate studies, "the choices [at the time] were University of Rochester and UA. Growing up in Cincinnati, the climate seemed better here. I also joke that I have very good eyesight and in optics you are often the detector and part of the experiment — a natural draw for me."

After graduation, Greivenkamp joined the Camera Technology Lab in the physics division of the Eastman Kodak Research Labs in Rochester, New York. After 10 years at Kodak, he returned to OSC in 1991 as an associate professor of both optical sciences and ophthalmology, becoming a full professor in 1997.

"I first knew John when he was a bright, 22-year-old first-year graduate student," said Jim Wyant, founding Dean and professor emeritus of optical sciences in OSC. "Later, he became one of our most valuable faculty members. John was an excellent teacher and mentor for our students. At Optical Sciences he was always willing to help in any way he could. He spent an enormous amount of time helping to direct the building of our West Wing, and he helped put together the plan for the Optical Sciences Center to become the College of Optical Sciences. On his own, he created our antique optics museum, which now brings visitors from all over the world. He was always very much involved in professional societies and somehow, he found the time to be the 2020 President of SPIE. John was a wonderful person and will be greatly missed."

John Greivenkamp at UA in 1989

An SPIE Member for over 26 years, Greivenkamp became a Fellow in 1996, and was the Society's President in 2020. He served on numerous SPIE committees — including the Strategic Planning and Symposia Committees — and as chair of the Publications Committee from 2011 through 2014. Greivenkamp also served as series editor of the popular SPIE Field Guides and authored the first book in the series, Field Guide to Geometrical Optics.

"John was a dedicated and inspiring colleague, both in SPIE and at the University of Arizona," said SPIE Vice President Jennifer Kehlet Barton. "He believed in optics education, especially at the undergraduate level, and one of my students was the proud recipient of the John E. Greivenkamp Undergraduate Endowed Scholarship in Optical Sciences. The students sometimes groaned about his classes as he challenged them but came out better. He was immensely and rightly proud of his legendary SPIE Field Guide to Geometrical Optics, a staple in thousands of labs and offices. He was also proud of his leading role in creating the imaginative Wyant College of Optical Sciences Meinel building addition, which is home to his incredible Museum of Optics. John was always happy to answer questions and give sage advice to students and colleagues. I will miss his enthusiasm and energy."

Katie Schwertz, a member of the SPIE Board of Directors, also noted Greivenkamp's popular text. "No one could ever doubt John's commitment to the optics and photonics community," said Schwertz. "He had an incredible gift for making complicated topics and concepts accessible to others and was always passionate about fundamentals. The Field Guide series was a perfect example — I don't know anyone who doesn't have his Field Guide to Geometrical Optics on their bookshelves. Jim Burge and I published the Field Guide to Optomechanics shortly after I graduated from UA, and it opened so many doors for me. I will always be grateful that John made that opportunity possible."

John Greivenkamp's SPIE tie    John Greivenkamp's SPIE tie closeup

At the SPIE Board of Directors meeting in November 2021, John Greivenkamp shows off his custom-made SPIE tie featuring all the SPIE badges he has worn over the years. Credit: Photo courtesy of Katie Schwertz

Dedicated to the ongoing mission of SPIE, Greivenkamp was an elected member of the SPIE Board of Directors from 1997 through 2000, and again from 2012 through 2014.

"John became my closest mentor regarding SPIE governance during my first term on the board in 2011-13," said SPIE Past President Jim Oschmann. "We spent many hours during and in between meetings discussing issues and working towards change. John was always committed to making SPIE better and more beneficial to all. Our connection endured and it was an honor to serve with him later on the Executive Committee. He was dedicated to SPIE, education, and the optics industry at large. He will truly be missed."

SPIE Past President Robert Lieberman also spoke of Greivenkamp's dedication to the Society. "John Greivenkamp's devotion to SPIE was unmatched, and his contributions over many years will have a lasting impact on the Society," said Lieberman. "He was a valuable resource, a valued colleague, a jovial companion, and a lover of all things optical. His depth of knowledge and range of expertise, together with his enthusiasm to share his excitement about our field with everybody he met, made him a true ‘bearer of light to the world.' It was a deep honor to serve with John on the Board and other committees, and always a pleasure to meet him at locations around the world. It's wonderful that, before he left us, he got to achieve one of his greatest goals: becoming President of SPIE. John will be sorely missed by all who knew him and particularly by me, who learned so much, and got so much joy, from being with him. Rest in peace, dear friend."

A passionate advocate of education, Greivenkamp taught the Optical System Design course for SPIE beginning in 2005. In 2017, he received the SPIE Maria J. Yzuel Educator Award for his dedication to both formal and informal optics education, for his passion for transferring his knowledge to the next generation of engineers, and for inspiring students of all descriptions to appreciate science.

"John was my guide and host during my recruitment visit to the UA Optical Science Center 40 years ago when I was a senior undergrad," said Kyle Myers, a member of the SPIE Board of Directors. "He later was my host during multiple visits to Kodak in Rochester when I was a Kodak graduate student fellow. I am grateful for his many years of support, encouragement, and advice in all the ensuing years. I am so grateful for having been able to have him as my friend for all these years. His passion for teaching optics was tremendous as was his dedication to the Wyant College of Optical Sciences and the larger optics and photonics community. His service to SPIE is legendary. He will be so greatly missed."

John Greivenkamp at OSC Museum of Optics

John Greivenkamp at the OSC Museum of Optics in 2020. Credit: Photo courtesy of Bernard Kress

Greivenkamp also had a passion for the history of optics: he was the founder and curator of the Museum of Optics at OSC. Officially dedicated in 2011, the collection was established in 2003 and today features more than 1,000 antique and historic telescopes, monoculars, binoculars, microscopes, lenses, and cameras. The earliest pieces date from the 1600s.

"It is with indeed with sad hearts that we learned of John's passing," said former SPIE Secretary/Treasurer Brian Lula. "I owe a lot to John for his mentoring and friendship at SPIE as it became my photonics community home over the last 25 years. With each new step of responsibility at SPIE, John was always first to pass on guidance and encouragement from his extensive experience serving SPIE. A profound highlight will be John showing me the amazing collection of antique optical instruments at UA that he had collected over the years. The extra sparkle in his eyes as he talked of the history and aesthetic beauty of these instruments on display revealed the underlying passion he had for his profession, its underlying science, and its communication to others."

SPIE CEO Kent Rochford and SPIE President Anita Mahadevan-Jansen also remember Greivenkamp as dedicated member of the Society and a friend.

"John's commitment with SPIE spanned over a quarter of a century and encompassed everything that our society does," said Rochford. "He presented papers, authored books, chaired committees, served as an ambassador, and led the society as SPIE President during a turbulent year of pandemic. John's deep involvement yielded insights and historical context that SPIE will sorely miss. But what I will mostly miss is his friendship."

"John always knew the answer to any question one might have, be it about SPIE history, governance, bylaws, or policies. He had a deep understanding of the nuances of the bylaws that only he could explain," said Mahadevan-Jansen. "He was without par a champion of SPIE and his absence will be keenly felt by those of us who knew him, respected him, and worked with him. He was my go-to person any time I had a question about SPIE and I am going to miss him every day as I navigate through my year as President."

Throughout his career, Greivenkamp never stopped supporting and promoting the value of education. The final question in that OSC interview was, "What advice would you give to this year's graduating class?" His response still stands as stellar advice today:

"While you are a student take as many classes as you can — even or especially in areas outside your specialty. There have been many times in my career when I was the only person in a meeting who knew the tidbit we needed — you don't always need to be an expert to contribute. You will do numerous theses and dissertations during your career, but the time in school is really the only time when you have easy access to classes. Get involved in the professional societies. It is a commitment to your profession and a way to give back. You will meet and become friends with so many people that you would not have otherwise."

Greivenkamp's family has requested that those wishing to make donations in his memory direct their gifts to his endowed scholarship fund. Read more in the UA OSC memorial.

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