James C. Wyant

OSA 2010 President James C. Wyant, the founding dean of the University of Arizona College of Optical Science, at a ceremony last November unveiling his new US$20 million pledge to endow ten new chairs at the college. This spring, the college will be renamed in Wyant’s honor. [Image: University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences]

The University of Arizona has announced that it will rename its College of Optical Sciences in honor of the college’s founding dean, OSA Fellow and past president James C. Wyant. The official renaming ceremony of the college as the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences will take place later this spring.

Ursula Gibson, the 2019 president of The Optical Society (OSA)—a role filled by Wyant in 2010—noted in an OSA statement that his “generous contributions to the University of Arizona and the field of optics will enable future generations to explore new discoveries and technologies.”

“Enormous contribution”

The college’s renaming, according to University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins, recognizes Wyant’s “enormous contribution” to the college over a period of more than four decades. That contribution began when he joined the Arizona faculty in 1974 as an assistant professor, later becoming a full professor in 1979.  Wyant later assumed a part-time role at the university to pursue the co-founding, in 1982, of WYKO Corp., a highly successful venture in computerized interferometry for high-precision industrial applications. Wyant also participated, as a founder or director, in a variety of other optical technology companies.

After WYKO was acquired by Veeco Instruments in 1997, Wyant returned to full-time teaching at the university, becoming the director of the optical sciences program—what was then called the Optical Sciences Center (OSC)—in 1999. He led the transition of OSC to a full college of the university and became the founding dean of the new College of Optical Sciences in 2005, serving in that role and presiding over the college’s rapid expansion until his retirement in 2013.

Recent endowment

In recent years, Wyant has deepened his commitment to the college still further, through financial gifts totaling some US$30 million. One of those gifts was a US$10 million donation in 2013, the year of his official retirement, to establish a fund for grad-student scholarships called the Friends of Tucson Optics (FoTO). More recently, last November, Wyant pledged US$20 million to the university to create 10 new endowed faculty positions at the college—the largest gift for endowed chairs in the university’s history. The first two chairs under the endowment, honoring Robert R. Shannon and J.W. and H.M. Goodman, were announced earlier this month.

In an interview with OPN late last year, after the announcement of Wyant’s US$20 million endowment, the college’s current dean, OSA Fellow Thomas L. Koch, talked about the new directions that Wyant’s generosity would enable—and about Wyant’s profound connection with the college. “I feel that with Jim and OSC, it’s not just about the brick and mortar,” Koch told OPN. “He’s an incredible believer in the mission and the concept behind this college.” With the decision to rename the college in his honor, that commitment receives a very tangible acknowledgment.

“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,” University of Arizona president Robbins said in a UA press release accompanying the announcement. “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.”