Etendue: Richard L. Shoemaker

    Date Posted: 
    Thursday, March 12, 2015

    Welcome to Etendue, featuring interesting and accomplished individuals known for their leadership and contributions both with their careers and the College of Optical Sciences, in their own words. (For a similar view on the college’s best and brightest – our students – please check out Another Wavelength among our Students in the Spotlight.)

    Professor Emeritus Richard L. Shoemaker is our subject this week.

     The throughput of a life in optics" banner

    Where are you from?

    I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In junior high school, I became very interested in chemistry and set up my own chemistry lab in the basement of our house, where I recall making synthetic rubber, nylon and a variety of explosives (back then, anyone could order any sort of chemicals by mail, no questions asked!). My desire to become a scientist was solidified after my high school senior year, when I was selected to attend the 1962 Honors Institute for Young Scientists, where I built a working cloud chamber. Thanks to a National Merit Scholarship, I was able major in chemistry at Calvin College, and then went on to obtain my Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1971 at the University of Illinois, doing microwave spectroscopy.

    Who or what influenced your interest in optics?

    As part of the Honors Institute program, we traveled to the University of Michigan, where we heard lectures by the leading scientists there. One of them was none other than former OSC director Peter Franken, who explained, in his inimitable style, how lasers worked, and gave us an impressive demonstration of his ruby laser (whose output power he measured in Gillettes, i.e., the number of razor blades the laser could punch a hole through).

    The second influence was my postdoc with Richard G. Brewer at the IBM Research Laboratories in San Jose. We were doing laser spectroscopy and developed a novel technique for observing photon echoes and many other optical coherent transient phenomena. This work caught the attention of the quantum optics group at the Optical Sciences Center, which hired me as an assistant professor in 1972.

    Describe your career.

    I came to Arizona as an assistant professor, eventually becoming professor of optical sciences, chemistry and radiology, as well as the associate dean for academic programs. During my career, I taught 12 different courses in optical sciences and published over 80 papers in quantum optics, optical physics, applied optics, biomedical engineering and computer engineering. I also co-authored three popular books on microcomputers with Murray Sargent III.

    Describe your current job.

    I retired for the first time after spending 38 years at OSC. After retirement, I travelled extensively with my late wife, Yolanda, visiting over 25 countries plus Hawaii and Alaska. On these trips, we mostly did scuba diving, birding and hiking (including hiking the Austrian and Swiss Alps, and the Yosemite High Sierra loop). We also learned to sail and did a number of bareboat charters in the Caribbean and Lake Michigan and off the coasts of Florida and California.

    Rick Shoemaker at Yosemite National Park

    When at home, I enjoy playing with Arduino-based microprocessors and the multitude of sensors that can be controlled by them, as well as with the Lego Mindstorms sets. I’m currently building a couple of small autonomous vehicles that incorporate them.

    In 2013, I came back to OSC for several months to serve as interim associate dean and then retired a second time. I continue to enjoy traveling, camping, snorkeling, birding and just being at the ocean (especially at a Club Med) or in the mountains. I also continue to spend at least a week every year in San Carlos, Mexico, something I’ve been doing since the early 1970s.

    Share your single best OSC experience.

    It’s very hard to choose, but if I have to pick just one, it would be the time in 1989-1990 when Harry Barrett asked me if I could build a multiprocessor computer to do the front-end processing for a novel coded-aperture detector system he was developing for nuclear medicine. Over the next year or so, I was able to design, build, debug and write the initial software for a 60-processor computer system. Despite the fact that it took nearly six months to debug the hardware, it was a tremendously enjoyable and satisfying experience. As far as I know, it was the first multiprocessor computer system on the UA campus.

    Rick Shoemaker scuba divingWhy is staying involved with OSC important to you? How are you involved?

    OSC has been my professional home for over 42 years and has enabled me to have a wonderful and rewarding career. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to teach a wide variety of courses, to collaborate with some of the best scientists in the world and to work with many outstanding students. I’m very grateful to OSC for all that it has done for me, and I would like to keep doing what I can to support its continued growth and success.

    My primary current involvement with OSC is through the endowed graduate scholarship that I was able to establish thanks to Jim Wyant’s incredibly generous offer of matching funds. The activities associated with the scholarship help me keep in touch with OSC’s faculty, students and staff. I also still have an office in OSC and manage to stop by periodically to visit with friends and colleagues there.

    Name one neat fact about you.

    I’ve been an avid scuba diver, with nearly 300 dives in locations all over the world.


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