AUBURN – AU will present an honorary doctor of science degree on May 10 to C. Harry Knowles, an Auburn alumnus whose optical scanning technology is used at every stage of commerce, including nearly every retailing check-out counter across America.
Knowles, who is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the late 1940s and a 1951 Auburn graduate in physics, will receive the honorary degree during the 10 a.m. graduation ceremony in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.
During his college years, Knowles, a Birmingham native, was a varsity wrestler for legendary Coach “Swede” Umbach, editor of the student yearbook, vice president and acting president of student government and a founding member of the campus chapter of Sigma Pi Sigma national physics honor society.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Auburn, Knowles earned a master’s degree in physics at Vanderbilt and worked during the 1950s and ’60s at Bell Labs, Motorola and Westinghouse before starting his own company, Metrologic Instruments, in 1968. The following year, his company’s product was featured on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine, where it was described as the world’s first laser kit.
In 1974, Knowles led Metrologic to develop helium-neon lasers, which became the basis for laser scanners that transformed the retail industry over the past 15 years. By 2007, the Auburn alumnus held more than 250 patents in his name, with 100 pending, and he received national “E Star” awards for export success from presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
On the national education front, Knowles and his wife established the Janet H. and C. Harry Knowles Foundation to enhance the quality of high school teachers of science and mathematics. Among its activities, the foundation supports fellowships to develop teachers and researchers in those fields.
At Auburn, Knowles played a major role in the development of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, serving on the advisory board of the newly formed college in the late 1980s. In 1998, Knowles and his wife endowed the college’s Howard and Carolyn Carr Chair in Physics in honor of the former Physics Department head and his wife. Knowles attributed much of his later success in life to the encouragement he received as a student from the couple.