In Memoriam: Roland V. Shack

    Date Posted: 
    Monday, October 21, 2019

    Professor Roland V. Shack passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Dr. Shack was a legend in the optical engineering field and lived a full and long life of 92-years. Dean Koch reflected on Dr. Shack's impact, “Professor Shack was dedicated to teaching and the success of his students, many of whom became leaders in the field.  As one of the very first faculty members hired by Aden Meinel, he was instrumental in laying the foundations of what is now the Wyant College of Optical Sciences.”  

    Founding Dean, Dr. Jim Wyant, speaks fondly of Dr. Shack's impact on him, "Roland Shack taught me a lot. He had a gift of explaining complicated concepts in a very simple way. Because of this unique ability he was an amazing teacher. His favorite ideas and inventions were simple, clever, and extremely elegant. When I retired as Dean of Optical Sciences I had to move to a new office, and I selected the one Roland had used in the hopes of inheriting some of his creativity."

    Many from the Wyant College have good memories of Dr. Shack. Dr. John Greivenkamp, Professor of Optical Sciences and President Elect of SPIE, also shared his memories, “Roland was my teacher, my mentor and my friend – I miss him dearly.  He established an outstanding standard of excellence here at OSC, and we are all honored to be advancing the culture that he helped create."

    He is also remembered for his remarkable ingenuity in optical engineering, and has his name indelibly attached to iconic optical test instruments such as the Shack-Hartmann Wavefront Sensor and the Shack Cube Interferometer. Tammy Orr writes in the Reflections piece on Dr. Shack, "Throughout his career, Roland strived for one thing above all else — simplicity in everything he did as a way of making a difference in the lives of others. [His inventions] bear witness to his love of simple solutions." 

    Dr. Shack received extensive recognition for his important contributions including the 1998 SPIE A.E. Conrady Award in Optical Engineering, the 2003 OSA David Richardson Medal, and the 2004 SPIE Gold Medal.  In 2005 SPIE published a special volume honoring Shack, along with OSC former Director and Professor Emeritus Bob Shannon, entitled, “Robert Shannon and Roland Shack: Legends in Applied Optics”.

    A nice story about Dr. Shack’s life adventure and founding role in OSC appears in a Reflections piece written by Tammy Orr. This piece summarizes Dr. Shack's significant impact on OSC;

    It is hard to adequately express the important role Roland Shack played in changing a concept of an Optical Sciences Center in Arizona into a solid reality. The national and international reputation of OSC owes much to his 38 years of hard work and dedication. But to the 47 M.S. and Ph.D. students Roland advised and countless more that he taught, what is remembered as Roland’s most important legacy is his unfailing dedication in his multiple roles of teacher, advisor and mentor and his unparalleled talent for helping those around him develop their own ideas. As described by Bob Breault, Ph.D. ’79, Roland Shack is “a bright scientist who was really born to teach others how to enjoy the process of learning.”

    Our hearts and deepest sympathy go out to Dr. Shack's wife, Pam Shack, and their extended family and friends. Dr. Shack will be missed.

    Per the request of the Shack family, memorial contributions may be made to the Roland V. Shack Graduate Student Scholarship in Optical Sciences.

    Checks can also be mailed to: UA Wyant College of Optical Sciences, Development Department, 1630 E. University Blvd., PO Box 210094, Tucson, AZ 85721-0094. Please make checks payable to ‘UA Foundation' and include ‘Roland Shack Scholarship' in the memo. If you have questions, please contact the College’s Development Officer, Kaye Rowan, at (520) 626-8754 or