Soon, we will launch a new and updated customer portal, which is an important step toward providing our customers with one place to learn, interact, and get help.
Learn more.

Why is it called Zemax?

Question: Why is the company and the original optical design program called Zemax? What does Zemax mean? 
Ken Moore
Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called Zemax?

I'm often asked where the name Zemax came from. In the Fall of 1988 I moved to Tucson, Arizona to attend graduate school at the Optical Sciences Center. Shortly thereafter, I started working on optimization algorithms for physical optics propagation as part of my thesis work. The computers of the day were too slow to really test the algorithms on physical optics problems, so I started working on a simple ray trace program for classical lens design. I was something of an insomniac, and the desert heat didn't help. I tended to stay up most or even all of the night several days a week. That was when I was most productive in programming.

At that time, I had a dog named Max. He was a Samoyed, a sort of Russian Husky dog. Max would follow me wherever I went at home, and late at night he would invariably curl up at my feet under my desk. So, I decided to name my little test program MAX after my dog. I adopted capital letters for the name of the program even though MAX was not an acronym, mainly because most scientific programs of the day were capitalized acronyms.

I quickly discovered I enjoyed doing lens design software programming much more than my thesis work, much more in fact than anything I had ever worked on. I worked countless hours on MAX, keeping up with my class work and thesis work during the day, and staying up nights working on MAX. In 1991 I decided to take out our very first magazine ad in the November issue of Laser Focus World. After I sent LFW the artwork for the ad, they called me back to tell me there was already another lens design program called MAX, so I would have to change my name to place the ad. I had never heard of the other MAX, but a little digging confirmed there was indeed a program with the same name already out there.

With just a very short time to modify the ad, we needed a new name. I brainstormed with my wife, friends, and anyone else not sick of me talking about MAX. Many names were quickly proposed and as quickly dismissed - QuickRay, EZRay, FastLens, etc. One early user even suggested "Code Six". All the names seemed uninspired to me. I actually had two Samoyeds at the time, and my thesis advisor, (George Lawrence, author of the GLAD program) suggested I use the other dog's name instead. But "Sneakers" just didn't have the right sound to it. After days of trying to come up with a name I liked, I finally blurted out "Zemax". My wife and I agreed to use that name for the first ad, and for future ads we would come up with a "good name" to replace Zemax. 

And of course, as you know, we never came up with a "good name" and the name Zemax took its place in lens design history. 

Ken and Max

The picture is of Max and me, taken in Tucson in 2001. Max lived from 1985 to 2002, living almost to his 17th birthday, an exceptionally long life for a big (60 pound) dog.