UA Names College of Optical Sciences After Founding Dean

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University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins announced Feb. 25 that its College of Optical Sciences will be renamed in honor of Professor Emeritus and founding dean James C. Wyant, who has donated $30 million to the college over the past six years.

Renaming the college as the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences recognizes Wyant’s significant impact in academia and as a business leader in the field and his exceptionally generous philanthropic contributions to the university and the college, Robbins said.

“Dr. Wyant’s enormous contributions over a 40-year period as a professor, dean, business leader, and philanthropist have been instrumental in advancing the college’s world-leading education and research program in optical sciences,” Robbins said. “His extraordinary tenacity, vision, and generosity have promoted the success of the university’s mission to provide our students with unprecedented opportunities to drive innovation and become future leaders in our society.”

Wyant’s donations have been earmarked to support optical sciences faculty and students at the university.

In November, the university announced that Wyant and his family were pledging $20 million to support 10 new endowed faculty positions in the College of Optical Sciences.

The commitment was the largest gift for endowed faculty chair positions in UA’s history — and the second historic donation from Wyant.

In 2013, Wyant donated $10 million to the college for graduate student scholarships in a campaign called FoTO (Friends of Tucson Optics). As a result of his initial gift, more than 250 additional donors contributed, resulting in the establishment of 30 first-year graduate student scholarship endowments, each bearing the name of a donor.

“Jim’s academic leadership and philanthropic investments ensure that we can continue to grow, and recruit and support the best students and faculty — attracting the top people from around the world to make advances in optics that will improve our lives in unimaginable ways,” said Thomas L. Koch, dean of the college.

Wyant, a pioneer in the optics and photonics fields, earned a doctorate in optical engineering from the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics. His career in optical engineering began at Itek Corp., based in Massachusetts. His work included computer-generated holograms for testing aspheric optics, and then, later, the development of phase-shifting techniques for transferring interferometric data to computers, and wavefront sensors for adaptive optics. While working at Itek, Wyant taught physics and math at Lowell Technological Institute.

“Dr. Wyant and his family have a passion for educating students and providing opportunities for faculty who are committed to change the world for the better,” Robbins said. “It is truly fitting that the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences will bear the name of its founding dean and honor the incredible legacy of someone who has been instrumental in establishing the UA as the national leader in optics and photonics.”

The official renaming ceremony for the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences is planned for this spring.

Published: February 2019
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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