Research Highlights / Full Story

Evolution of Photo Science to Imaging Science

When RIT began its photographic technology program in 1930, the focus was on the principles and practice of film photography and understanding the science of materials and processes. The program was renamed to photographic science in the mid 60s. As the technology evolved from film to electronic imaging to digital, photographic science morphed into imaging science.

In 1985, the Center for Imaging Science formed. It was the university's first research and teaching center bringing together traditional disciplines such as physics, mathematics, and optics with newer ones like computer science.

The technology has changed, but solving problems, conducting research, and providing students with a multi-disciplinary education remain at the core of the Center's mission. Last year, the Chester F. Carlson Center boasted externally funded research expenditures of more than $6 million.

RIT's Schott at Kick-Starting Research and a Ph.D.

In the early '80s, RIT was looking to ramp up its research and start a doctoral program in imaging science. A key figure in that transformation has been John Schott. Schott was 29 years old when he came to RIT. He had completed his Ph.D. in environmental science/remote sensing at Syracuse University and was working at Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories, now Calspan. Schott's specialty is remote sensing-specifically, the quantitative data analysis of remotely sensed images of the Earth such as evaluating the quality of a body of water or assessing the health of vegetation. Schott also works with the defense/military community.

Dr. Ronald Francis, longtime head of the department of photographic science, recruited Schott in 1980.

"I wasn't even thinking about changing jobs, but I ended up coming to RIT and never looked back," says Schott. "I got to do remote-sensing work, but much more importantly, the university wanted me to spin up research."

Schott's remote-sensing work led to RIT's first major grant in 1981 for NASA's Landsat program. Schott knew that research and a doctoral program had to go hand in hand.

"I didn't want to create a Ph.D. program," says Schott. "I wanted to do state-of-the-art research, but I knew we couldn't do research without doctoral students."

The process to bring a Ph.D. program to fruition took nearly a decade. The RIT Board of Trustees had to amend the university's charter to allow for doctoral programs and once that was complete the charter had to be approved by New York state.

Among those board members championing the Ph.D. program and the need to grow research was Robert Kohler, who had graduated from RIT in 1959 with a bachelor of science in photographic science and technology. Kohler's career in the intelligence community included working at the Central Intelligence Agency, Lockheed Martin, and TRW Avionics and Surveillance Group. Kohler met then-RIT President M. Richard Rose at a dinner in Washington, D.C., and the two discussed an imaging science doctoral program. Kohler was an advocate of the idea because the intelligence community, among other industries, needed talented graduates. Kohler joined the Imaging Science Advisory Board in the mid '80s and then two years later became a member of the university's Board of Trustees.

"I led the charge saying that this was the kind of thing that RIT had to do," says Kohler, now a trustee emeritus. "Rochester was the imaging capital of the world and if a technical institute in Rochester, New York, had to be good at anything it was imaging. The majority of the board didn't believe that RIT should be in the Ph.D./research business, that our hallmark was as a teaching institution that produced craftsmen and technologists for the community."

Schott, Kohler, and Rose were among those who persuaded the board to move forward, and in December 1989, the New York State Board of Regents officially approved RIT's first Ph.D. program. Since its inception, 113 students have graduated from the doctoral program that draws students from all over the world, with physics, electrical engineering, and optical science/engineering as the top degree programs feeding the Ph.D.

A Center is Built

Upon its formation, the Center operated out of offices and laboratories in Frank E. Gannett Hall. In 1985, RIT received a federal appropriation of $11.1 million, half of which went toward the completion of the Microelectronic Engineering Building and the remainder went toward the construction of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, named in recognition of the founder of xerography as well as a generous donor to RIT.

Chester Carlson's daughter, Catherine Carlson, attended the center's dedication ceremony on Oct. 28, 1989, and accepted the naming honor in his memory.

"Although Chester Carlson prized his anonymity, it seems right to honor a man who has contributed so much to the well-being of so many people and to the technological advancement of the 20th century," said Carlson in her remarks.

"He had a great affection for this institute and would be proud of the leading, comprehensive university RIT has become. RIT has indeed honored this great man by naming this center for imaging science for him."

Imaging leaders from as far away as London and Tokyo attended the dedication.

The 70,000-square-foot facility opened with 20 laboratories, five classrooms, 40 offices, five seminar and tutorial rooms, and a 150-seat auditorium.

"Everyone from the faculty up to the director treated the Center like a new home," says Schott. "There wasn't a crumb on the floor. It was an exciting time for all of us."

Center Veterans

Schott is part of a group of veteran faculty members who have been at RIT since the Center's inception.

Among the others is Mark Fairchild, who started at RIT as a student. Fairchild, a native of Trumansburg, N.Y., recalls riding in the car with his parents down Jefferson Road and peering out the window at the campus. He told his dad he wanted to go to college there, but his dad emphatically said it was too expensive.

"I loved photojournalism and my parents and I ended up coming here on a tour when I was in high school," says Fairchild, associate dean of research and graduate education in the College of Science and director of the program of color science. "We ran into a psychology professor, whose name I don't recall, and he mentioned the photo science program. We went over to check it out and noticed all the job postings on a bulletin board. I was always good at science, but had never thought about it as a job."

Fairchild started in 1982 in the photographic science department as a photographic science and instrumentation major, pursuing the BS/MS program. When he graduated in 1986, the imaging science program had begun. Fairchild believes he's the first master's graduate from the program.

Jeff Pelz also came to RIT as a student. Initially majoring in the fine arts photography program, he discovered pretty quickly that he didn't want to be a fine arts photographer, but a photo scientist. He approached Ron Francis, nicknamed "Doc" about changing his major to photo science and instrumentation. Extremely doubtful, Francis told Pelz he would need to take a series of science courses and successfully complete the summer transfer course. Pelz eventually completed the undergraduate photo program, then entered the master's of science photo science program via the summer transfer course.

"It was essentially a 10-week bootcamp in photo science, eight hours a day, five days a week of classes and labs. I loved it," says Pelz. Pelz completed his MS thesis with Willem Brouwer, the Center's first director. Brouwer sparked Pelz's interest in vision and encouraged Pelz to pursue his doctorate at the University of Rochester's Center for Visual Science. Today, Pelz is the co-director of the Multidisciplinary Vision Research Laboratory in the Carlson Center.

Harvey Rhody, who will retire from RIT in May 2014 after 44 years, initially was part of the electrical engineering faculty. He joined the Carlson Center under director Rodney Shaw's tenure. Rhody recalls Shaw asking him what he was going to do his first year.

"I told him I was going to figure out what imaging science was," says Rhody. Rhody did figure it out and began working on computer vision, developing courses in multiple-view imaging, or how to derive 3D information from multiple images of a scene. Rhody served as interim director from 1996-1997.

"The Carlson Center initially reported to the College of Graphic Arts and Photography and then was moved out of the college as a stand-alone unit," says Rhody. "This was considered temporary. Imaging science faculty members were consulted about where would be the best fit and we decided to join the College of Science. I worked with the College of Science dean at that time, Bob Clark, to help the Center make that transition. We started looking for a permanent Center director and ended up recruiting Ian Gatley."

Gatley served as Center director from 1997 to 2003 until he was named dean of the College of Science. Ron Jodoin then split his time as interim director of the Center while serving as associate dean of the College of Science as RIT conducted a national search. In 2004 RIT hired Stefi Baum, an astronomer who had worked at the Space Telescope Institute (STScI), the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope and the next-generation space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope. Baum has served as the Center's director for nine years.

"The neatest thing about the Center and why I came here is because it achieves this interdisciplinary fusion of multiple fields," says Stefi Baum, director of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. "It's also truly focused on student education and at the forefront of research. Those two aspects have never diverged from each other and it's hard to find that combination anywhere else. Our students go on to great careers in academia or, more commonly, in industries such as medical imaging, the environment, defense, aerospace, nanoimaging, and the tech industry. Students can pick where they want to make a contribution through imaging."