Remembering Michael K. Barnoski, trailblazer in fiber optics

March 27, 2024
Dr. Michael Kajeton Barnoski, inventor of the optical time-domain reflectometer, passed away peacefully on February 23, 2024.

Dr. Michael Kajeton Barnoski passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loving family on February 23, 2024 in Newport Beach, Calif..  He was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on August 19, 1940, and spent his formative years in Elmira, New York. He attended University of Dayton where he received his BS in Electrical Engineering and received his Master’s and Ph.D. Degrees in Electrical Engineering with majors in Microwave Electronics and Applied Physics, respectively, from Cornell University.

Michael then embarked upon an extremely prolific career—first in Boston at Honeywell and then 10 years at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California, where he became a pioneer in the field of fiber optics. While there, he led all fiber related activity for Hughes Aircraft and managed a large team of scientists, engineers and technicians worldwide. In 1976 while collaborating with other pioneering scientists internationally, most notably a team at Corning Glass Works led by Bob Maurer, he invented the optical time domain reflectometer (OTDR) that detects breaks in fiber optical cables. This instrument is still widely used throughout the world today.

By 1980 his good friend and mentor, Ted Maiman, inventor of the laser, lured him from Hughes Labs to TRW to create a world class research laboratory. The attraction for him was to be able to bridge his love of science with business by entering the commercial world. In 1980 he did just that by founding PlessCor Optronics (PCO), an integrated electrical-optical interface supplier, financed by investments from Corning Inc., Plessey, Plc. and IBM. Under his leadership, PCO became a recognized leader in its market by achieving rapid growth and profitability, in addition to becoming second in global market share in its product category.

Michael founded nanoPrecision Products, Inc. in 2002. The company became the world leader in ultra-precision 3D stamping with nanometer tolerances and accuracies. The company’s products, manufactured with volume scalable processes at low cost, were designed for use in multiple market segments, including telecommunications, data communication, military/aerospace, consumer electronics, medical devices, automotive, oil/logging and supercomputing industries. Under his leadership as CEO and CFO, the company achieved ISO 9000:2015 and AS9100D quality certification and earned certification by Verizon.

In addition to all of his accomplishments noted above, he taught at University of California, Santa Barbara in the summers for 20 years, wrote and edited three books, received over 60 patents, wrote and published 65 technical papers, traveled the world as guest lecturer at numerous universities, companies and technical conferences, and did consulting, including for the Chairman of Polaroid in Boston for five years.

Throughout his distinguished career he received numerous honors and awards. The award he prized the most was the Tyndall Award that he received in 1988 for his invention of the OTDR and for his extensive contribution to the field of fiber optics, presented jointly by the Optical Society of America (OSA) and the Lasers and Electro-Optics Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (LEOS/IEEE). The Tyndall Award is the highest award in the optical fiber communications field. He was the second in the world to receive it. He is listed in Who’s Who in Technology Today, Who’s Who in the West, STRATHMORE’S Who’s Who and National Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals.

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