Colloquia & Guest Speakers


My 50 Years of Optical Design Using Husserl’s Phenomenology

Mr. David Shafer, David Shafer Optical Design

Monday, November 7, 2016
3:00 p.m.
Goergen Hall, Room 101

David ShaferAbstract

My training long ago at the Institute of Optics was supplemented by an equally valuable time spent in the U of R Philosophy Department, from which I got my undergraduate degree in 1965. Back then I was struck by Edmund Husserl’s philosophy of phenomenology, which attempts to discover what it is that we bring to perception that then colors our view of external reality. An adult will find it is almost impossible to look at a word on a sign and not read it. Yet all that is on the sign are some patterns of lines and shapes. We bring and impose meaning upon it that is not inherent in the thing itself.

In a like way an optical design problem is usually presented to and received by the designer with an overlay of hidden assumptions that tend to produce tunnel vision in the designer. My quest during my 50 years as a full-time designer is to peel away these assumptions and see problems as they “really” are, which then fosters novel solutions.

This talk will show many simple examples of how to approach optical design problems from this phenomenological perspective and how the result can be many new and unusual solutions. These range from the extremely simple – such as when I discovered the first new perfect optical system in over 70 years, or designed a new kind of stereo viewer for Salvador Dali, to the very complex– all of today’s state-of-the art computer chips are made using an immersion catadioptric lithographic design that I invented about 12 years ago, one of my 150 or so patents.


Dave Shafer attended the Institute of Optics from 1961 to 1966, which included one year of graduate school after an undergraduate degree in philosophy.  In his freshman class he was one of just 5 optics majors.  How times have changed!   After 15 years of working for high tech optics companies Dave started his optical design service company in 1980.  Since then he has mostly specialized in lithographic systems design.  Dave uses aberration theory as a source of ideas about ways to generate new types of optical designs, resulting in many patents.  Dave is a fellow of the OSA, and received the A.E. Conrady award from S.P.I.E. in 2005.

Location: Goergen 101

Refreshments will be served.