A photographic mind

Roger Van Heyningen '51


Fall 2010

Coming out of graduate school as a new physicist, Roger Van Heyningen ’51 was a proponent of “unguided research.” And he found the opportunity to follow his own interests at Eastman Kodak, the famous Rochester, N.Y., corporation. He remembers those times fondly.

“I was hired to be a part of Kodak’s Solid State Physics Laboratory. It was a time of great excitement in the field of solid state physics. Along with major advances in basic understanding came great technological revolutions—the transistorintegrated circuitssuperconductivity and lasers.”

In 1970, an imaging device called the CCD was invented by researchers at AT&T’s Bell Labs where it was seen as a key component of a video phone. It was based on an integrated chip.

With his physics background, Van Heyningen saw this technology as having potential to be at the core of photography in the future and a serious threat to Kodak’s film-based technology. He brought that idea to Kodak, where it was received with considerable skepticism. But, having advanced in the technical management of the company, he was able to move ahead and brought in some very bright people to work on this new technology.

“I had them working on both CCDs and what we more broadly called ‘electronic imaging.’ This ultimately became the digital photography we know today. We were leading the company down a different technical path and our research was clearly not unguided,” he said.

As the costs of digital electronics came down, digital photography would become more competitive with the core of Kodak’s film-based business, as Van Heyningen had predicted. It also brought in a host of new and competent competitors. The business model for photography had changed forever.

“It is actually a long and complicated story, but it was an exciting time and we established the technical base for Kodak to transition into the digital age,” he said. “During all this I was fortunate enough to be able to maintain my interests in both technology and science.”

In all, Van Heyningen spent 32 years at Kodak, and while based in Rochester, got involved in operations worldwide and made many friends internationally.

Amid the fast-paced world of technology and business, Van Heyningen and his wife, Ginny Vander Veen Van Heyningen ’51, raised three children—Steven, Paul and Julie—each of whom graduated from Calvin and went on to obtain advanced degrees. The family was active in the local Christian school and Christian Reformed Church of Rochester. Ginny, a lover of books, chose the school and church libraries as her area of special interest.

Upon retirement, the Van Heyningens looked for a place to settle and decided on Colorado Springs, Colo., mainly, he said, “to go on a new adventure. We wanted to stretch ourselves, be vulnerable and see what God would do in our lives. We wanted to make ourselves available.”

The answers came quickly in the forms of First Presbyterian Church—elder, trustee and teaching for Roger and library administration for Ginny—and Hope and Home, which has become a leading foster care and adoption agency.

He said he was well-prepared by Calvin, majoring in math but with an eye for physics, and he switched from math to physics while in graduate school at the University of Illinois.

What was most important about Calvin days for Van Heyningen, however, was the influence of some outstanding professors, particularly John Tuls in math (who suggested an astrophysics career) and legendary professors William Harry Jellema and Henry Stob.

“This background,” he said, “stimulated my interest in the interplay between theology and science which continues to this day.”

Calvin actually recruited Van Heyningen to teach physics at his alma mater after graduate school, but he was convinced at the time that he wanted to do research.

“In retrospect,” he said. “I believe God led me down the right path.”