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Michael John Kidger: Biography
Optical Designer, Teacher
The Early Years
Development as an Optical Designer
In 1963 Michael returned to Imperial College and joined the Optical Design Group developing software for 'automatic lens design' under the leadership of Charles Wynne. The group refined a technique for damped least squares optimisation which has proved to be the most effective, robust and reliable way of reaching the optimum design. This technique is widely used in modern optical design software packages.
In 1971 he was awarded a PH.D for his thesis entitled: "The application of electronic computers to the design of optical systems, including aspheric lenses."
In the early 1970's, Michael quickly recognised the potential of desktop computers for optical design. He saw that instant availability, on-screen graphics and the inter-active capability would offer immeasurably greater freedom for experiment and innovation and that this would be the way forward. He led the development of a series of software packages that matched the rapidly increasing power of the desktops. Although the early machines were costly, limited in speed and limited in memory capacity, Michael showed that they could be used for effective optical design and had many advantages compared to the mainframe alternatives. It was his aim that the software should be easy-to-use and intuitive, should not require frequent reference to a manual (or Help files), and should only require the minimum of input from the user.
Michael recognised that the long history of optical design had engendered a mountain of theoretical work: originating in different countries, approaching optical design from different angles, and using different nomenclature and sign conventions. Much duplication and overlap existed. All this was daunting, and not very helpful, to students of optics. Michael being adept at selecting topics that would be useful in the mainstream of optical design, reducing the theory to the essentials, and re-writing the theory using a common nomenclature and sign convention, altered the academic environment for students of optical design. His students gained the advantage of learning practical optical design using theoretical and software tools written in a unified 'language'.
Optical design was revolutionised in the 1980's by the arrival of the IBM PC. At last, both software and hardware costs were affordable and optical design became a regular activity for many engineers and scientists. This new wave of designers far outnumbered the specialists creating an urgent need for a new style of brief, but effective, training in optical design. In 1982 Michael released for sale through Kidger Optics Ltd his optical design program SIGMA.
Teacher and Optical Designer
Michael was himself a talented and innovative lens designer. He produced designs that were simple and effective, and he was consummate in extracting the last ounce of performance from the minimum of surfaces. His work led to a deeper understanding of intrinsic limits to aberration correction under specific constraints and to novel interpretations of classical, but often poorly understood, aberration theory.
Michael John Kidger - In Memoriam
Tina is, as always, Managing Director of the business she and Michael founded together in 1982 to further develop and market their optical design software under the trade name, SIGMA. The business continues today as Kidger Optics Associates, an optical design consultancy.
For an expanded and enlightening insight into Michael Kidger, please read Tina's Foreword to Fundamental Optical Design, Vol. I.
We acknowledge with thanks the use of material by David E. L. Freeman, MSc, DIC, a student, friend and associate of Michael J. Kidger.
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