Engineering & Applied Sciences

Distinguished Alumni

Paul Forman

forman"Our vision was to be the best at whatever we set out to do," Paul Forman told the Class of 2003, the year he received the University of Rochester's Distinguished Alumnus Award.

He was referring to Zygo Corp., a manufacturer and distributer of high-end optical systems and components that Forman co-founded in 1970.

However, Forman applied the same vision to all of his endeavors, earning him NASA's Apollo Achievement Award, for example, for his work on the retroreflector array used in the first lunar landing.

Forman received his bachelor of science degree in optics from the University of Rochester in 1956. He worked for a short time at Bausch & Lomb before joining the Perkin-Elmer Company in 1957, where he held a number of engineering, program and management positions, including serving as director of optical engineering. At Perkin-Elmer he worked with Carl Zanoni and Sol Laufer on various devices, including prisms that were taken to the moon to perform measurement studies.

His collaboration with Zanoni and Laufer at Perkin-Elmer developed into a long-term business relationship when Forman recruited his two colleagues as co-founders of the Zygo Corporation. With funding from Canon, Inc. and Wesleyan University, the trio launched Zygo to produce optics "with the highest precision surfaces and angles in the world" for metrology and end-user applications. The company's first offering, an interferometer known as Model GH, was introduced in 1972 at an OSA annual meeting. Zygo became the world's leading supplier of interferometers and remained the leader in the field for a decade.

Forman remained with Zygo until 1993. He went on to serve as Zygo Chairman Emeritus and board member, chairman of the board of Cambridge Research & Instrumentation, and as an independent consultant to and board member of several high-tech companies. Over the years, he assisted younger entrepreneurs in establishing their own businesses.

He was named a Fellow of OSA in 1990, and in 1998 was awarded the Edwin H. Land Medal for pioneering entrepreneurial activity that has had a major impact in the science of optics. He also received the SPIE Alan Gordon Award, a Westinghouse Science Talent Search Scholarship, the Bausch and Lomb Science Scholarship, the Distinction in Photonics Award from the Laurin Publishing Company, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society for Precision Engineering.

In 1996, Forman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and fought it with characteristic determination. In 2004, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, which he also fought courageously. With the loving support of his wife, Barbara Marks, Forman survived both of these terrible illnesses. His death in November 2007, following cardiac arrest, was sudden and unexpected.

"He believed that science and technology combined with integrity and perseverance could make life better for us all," said Albert Gordon '56, his former college classmate, lifelong friend and professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

That, too, is a vision that could guide us all.