A Special Community Quest

Nov. 1, 2022

With record-setting gift endowed chairs, James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences benefactors set the stage for a radiant future while honoring luminaries past.

man holding projector

A 1980s Bell Labs researcher whose early advancesin laser technology undergird today’s iPhone facial-recognition capabilities. A chemist who — as University of Arizona president, a post he assumed at 36 years of age — green-lighted the institution’s involvement in the Multiple Mirror Telescope project, helping to change the game in optical-telescope design. An emeritus professor who, 28 years after his 1969 arrival in Tucson, gathered his accrued knowledge of lens construction in the 600-page book “The Art and Science of Optical Design.”

Jack Lee Jewell, John Paul Schaefer and Robert R. Shannon all made substantial contributions to their field of endeavor, forging pathways for future researchers to travel. And so it is only fitting that three of the 14 endowed chairs recently established through $28 million in gifts to the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, announced in January 2022, will bear their storied names.

The fundraising campaign — among the most ambitious of its kind in university history, with each of the 14 chairs endowed at an initial level of $2 million — proved long in the making and achievable only through partnership. In 2018, Harrison and Catherine Barrett funded an eponymous chair for a new faculty member in cancer imaging, seeking a researcher dedicated to addressing significant issues in our understanding and treatment of the disease.

Next came a $20 million gift from James Wyant and his family. Wyant, former professor and dean, helped transform the Optical Sciences Center, founded in 1964, into the College of Optical Sciences in 2005. It was the largest single gift for endowed chairs in university history, and was made with a request that fellow donors pitch in. A leader in optics and photonics, Wyant also directed the Optical Sciences Center beginning in 1999.

Donors responded to Wyant’s offer by pledging $500,000 to create each new named endowed chair, with $1.5 million coming for each from the college’s Distinguished Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences Fund.

The namesakes for the new chair endowments were selected by the partnering donor. Among them were Jewell, the Bell Labs researcher, and SPIE, or the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, an international nonprofit founded in 1955.

The fundraising campaign has raised enough support to help shepherd the Wyant College into a future bright with the promise of sustained achievement. Today, it is the largest and most diverse academic optics education and research program in the country,habitually spinning out patents, licenses and fresh talent. Six of the chairs have been awarded to David J. Brady, formerly of Duke University; Matt Eichenfield, formerly of Sandia National Laboratories; and UArizona faculty members James T. Schwiegerling, Lars Furenlid, R. Jason Jones and Saikat Guha.

“The College of Optical Sciences is a very special community. There are things that are possible here that just aren’t possible anywhere else,” Brady says.

Brady holds the J.W. and H.M. Goodman Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences. While at Duke University, he partnered with UArizona scientists to build the world’s first gigapixel camera in 2012.

“Having an endowed chair honors pioneers in the creation of our society and creates a narrative that helps people understand that real people are doing this work,” he says. “The College of Optical Sciences has a deep history with ties to astronomy and the James WebbSpace Telescope, for example. It is the human quest to understand our place in the universe at the most fundamental level — it speaks to a quest for excellence that is very exciting.”

James C. Wyant

James C. Wyant

Jacob Chinn

The namesakes for the college’s endowed chairs are accomplished faculty and researchers and university and industry leaders as well as two private foundations and two professional optics societies. Of the 14 endowed chairs, 12 of the namesakes have been publicly announced, with the remaining two to be made known in January.

• Jean M. Bennett Optica Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• Nelson E. Claytor Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• Robert M. Edmund Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• John B. Hayes Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• Harrison H. and Catherine C. Barrett Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences for Cancer Imaging
• J.W. and H.M. Goodman Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• Robert R. Shannon Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• SPIE Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• John Paul Schaefer Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• Nasser Peyghambarian Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• Jack Lee Jewell Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences
• Thomas R. Brown Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences