It would be difficult to fully detail and quantify Donn Silberman’s professional contributions to the optics industry. His impressive four-decade career includes multiple patents, publications, countless awards, management positions, boards seats, industry volunteer positions, and more. Now retired, Donn spends his time on what he believes may be his most important work: inspiring and training the next generation of optics technicians.

These days Donn regularly meets with students through classroom lectures, career fairs, and other community activities. “I get to do all the things I really like to do – and I really like to do optics. I like educating people. I love seeing the light bulbs go on in people’s minds,” he said. 

Donn Silberman discusses opportunities in the optics industry with a student at a recent high school career fair in Laguna Beach, CA.

In 2003, Donn founded the Optics Institute of Southern California (OISC), an Orange County-based nonprofit dedicated to math, science, and engineering education through optics and related technologies. Through OISC, he engaged with more community groups like Think Together, Vital Link, Boy Scouts of America, and others. Each new partner helped Donn introduce new audiences to science and especially to optics. His goal is to foster people’s curiosity in the field regardless of age.

Donn talked about the challenge of connecting with students on a topic they may not often think about, which is usually the case with optics. “First you have to interrupt what they are doing because their minds are always busy,” he said. Donn explained how he might use an inexpensive linear diffraction grating slide to capture students’ attention. “Then you have to engage with them by asking questions. Step three is to entertain them, and then finally, you can educate them,” he said.

Donn’s effort to engage the next generation of optics technicians is spurred, in part, by the Department of Defense (DoD) stating that it is a national imperative to increase the capacity of the optics manufacturing industry in the United States. “A great deal of the advanced technologies available today that are keeping our country safe have been made possible by precision optics technologies,” Donn said. He now volunteers with the workforce development team at AmeriCOM, supporting its mission to strengthen the optics manufacturing industry. Together, he and AmeriCOM are cultivating a new optics ecosystem in southern California and aligning industry partners, community groups, and academic institutions to train new optics technicians.

Donn said he can think of no better way to spend his retirement. “For many people like me, optics is not just our vocation, it’s in our blood. We keep working. We love what we do, and we want to give back.”