Robert E. Hopkins – June 30, 1915 – July 4, 2009



Robert Earl Hopkins, July 4, 2009 at home at the Bridges Cornell Heights in Ithaca where he was a resident for the past 3-˝ years. He had just turned 94 years. Known as “Hoppy” by his colleagues, “Porters” by his family, and “Bob” at the Bridges, he was beloved by his large family, his students, colleagues, and friends.


Born in Belmont, MA, June 30, 1915, he grew up in Weston, MA, and attended MIT under a full scholarship earning a B.S. in 1937. He attended the University of Rochester and received his M.S. in 1939 and Ph.D. (“A Method of Optical Design”) in 1945 from the UR’s Institute of Optics. In 1948, he was awarded a US Navy Citation for outstanding wartime service in the Office of Research and Development.  


He was appointed to the UR faculty in 1945 and Professor of Optics in 1951. He led the Institute of Optics as Director from 1954 to 1964 during the time when computers were first used to design optical systems and both fiber optics and the laser were born. He travelled frequently to Ithaca to use an early computer at Cornell and brought the first computers to the UR in 1955. His lens designs included the Todd-AO lens used for the film “Oklahoma!” (1955). In 1963 he organized the “Laser Road Show” for the National Science Foundation to introduce laser technologies at colleges, universities, and corporations.


He left the UR in 1967 to serve as President of Tropel, Inc., a company he co-founded in 1953. Tropel became a world leader in customized precision optical instrumentation and is now a division of Corning, Inc. He returned to the UR Laboratory of Laser Energetics as Chief Optical Engineer 1975 to 1982. During this entire period, he continued to teach as Professor of Optics and as Professor Emeritus in the 1980’s.


His accomplishments were honored by membership in Sigma Xi, American Society for Engineering Education, American Physical Society (Fellow), Optical Society of America (Fellow, Director 1955-60, Ives Medal 1970, President 1973), SPIE (Board of Governors, Gold Medal 1983) as well as numerous advisory panels. Recognized as an expert in optical instrument design, aspheric optics, interferometry, lasers, and lens testing, he has been characterized as the “father of optical engineering.” His career has been celebrated by his students and associates in the Robert E. Hopkins Professor of Optics endowed chair and the Robert E. Hopkins Center for Optical Design and Engineering at the UR.


He was an avid skier for most of his life, a 195 bowler, a competitive horseshoe player in his 70’s, and a sometime sailor and golfer. He also loved and respected the natural world in which we live and practiced his conservation ethic on the family property known as Wayland.


He was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Barbara Ann Barnes, and is survived by 6 children and their spouses – Roger (Ruth Allen) and Carl (Kathy Harpham) of Ithaca, Nancy (Dave Merritt) of Wilmington, N. Carolina, Robert, Jr. (Maria Kratz) of Duxbury, Mass., Mark (Linda Galloway) of Rochester, and Andrea (Dave Stephenson) of Madison, Conn., and by 17 grand-children and 5 great grand-children.


A memorial celebration of his life and reception will be held on Sunday, August 16, 1:30 pm at the University of Rochester Interfaith Chapel, Rochester, NY.  Please check at for information.  Friends wishing to make donations in his honor may consider the University of Rochester Institute of Optics, the Finger Lakes Land Trust, Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County, or their favorite charity.


Your memories would be most welcome by the family at




Institute of Optics


Robert E. Hopkins Center for Optical Design and Engineering


$2 Million Gift Establishes Center for Optical Design & Engineering
(October 23, 2007)


Robert Hopkins Sets the Course: 1954 - 1965


Hoppy Stories


Walt Siegmund's Todd-AO story




The Amazing Optical Adventures of Todd-AO


Photos     Photos (high resolution)


Photos of selection of star projector for Strasenburgh Planetarium (1966): 1 2 3 4 5


Oh, what a beautiful morning by Kathy Sindoni - Windows MP4 (10 mb)


A Fond Farewell video Windows MP4 (15mb)     Quicktime MOV (40mb)

Memorial program by Andrea Hopkins (PDF including lyrics to video)


Memorial weekend photos by Dave Stephenson and Allan Schwartz