In Memoriam: Karlton Crabtree

    Date Posted: 
    Monday, March 8, 2021

    By: Rich Pfisterer, President and Co-founder, Photon Engineering

    Our condolences to family and friends of Karlton Crabtree, Ph.D., (OSC 2010) who passed away on January 6, 2021. Karlton was known to many in our community as a valued, respected contributor and researcher in the fields of optical science and engineering, and a dedicated employee and friend. A scholarship endowment in his name has been established by Photon Engineering and friends at Wyant College of Optical Sciences. Contributions to the Karlton Crabtree Memorial Scholarship in Optical Engineering may be made here.

    Karlton Crabtree worked professionally in the optical engineering industry for just over a decade. He earned a B.S. in Physics from San Diego State University (2003) and an M.S. in Optical Sciences from UA (2006).  He was awarded a Ph.D. in Optical Sciences in 2010 under Dr. Russell Chipman; his dissertation was entitled “Polarization Conversion Cube Corner Retro-Reflector”.  He and Dr. Chipman were jointly awarded US Patent 8,421,711 for this work in 2013.  Karlton grew up in Acton, California, but spent his entire career in Tucson, Arizona.

    Upon receiving his doctorate, Karlton joined the Polarization Lab at the Wyant College of Optical Sciences as a research scientist. Having a wide range of talents and interests, he did optical design work and analyses, setup lab equipment and scientific programming. He was particularly proud of his work on NASA’s polarimeter definition experiment (PODEX) for which he made several trips to California to collect data.

    In 2014, Karlton joined Photon Engineering as a senior optical engineer.  His duties included optical design and analysis, stray light analysis, software development and testing.  He supported several development projects including a CubeSat optical receiver to map water ice on the moon, diffraction analyses for large segmented mirror concepts for exoplanet exploration, solar loading on orbiting sensors, and so on.  His passions for optics, photography and computers found a home at Photon Engineering where he was recognized by staff and customers as the “go to” person when a difficult problem was encountered.

    His love of computers was legendary. He built his own computers for home use and when Photon Engineering started working with GPU boards for high-speed ray tracing, he was first in line to start testing. He started documenting performance of different boards and kept updating his notes as newer and faster boards became available; this was invaluable information for Photon Engineering’s customers.  Karlton was also notorious for his ability to find the most obscure bugs in both software and hardware; he intuitively saw things that everyone else missed. His mind was restless and he always wanted to learn more about the world. The universe was his playground and so much of it captured his imagination.

    Karlton shared his wisdom and knowledge generously and if someone asked for help, he was committed until the problem was solved. He was responsible and hard working with an incredible work ethic. His friends and colleagues will miss his insights and resourcefulness, and his unique way of looking at optical engineering challenges.

    For more information on making a donation to the Karlton Crabtree Scholarship, contact Kaye Rowan rowan@optics.arizona.edu