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In Memoriam: James C. Wyant, 1943-2023

Dec 08, 2023

James C. Wyant, 2010 Optica President, Optica Honorary Member, and recipient of the Frederic Ives Medal/Jarus W. Quinn Prize, passed away on 8 December 2023 at the age of 80. Wyant was an academic leader, entrepreneur, educator, and philanthropist. Over the course of his 57 years of Optica membership, Wyant served in numerous volunteer roles, including being elected President (2010) and Honorary Member (2023). He was a beloved mentor and friend to many within the Optica community.

Wyant was the founding dean and namesake of the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, US. Originally from Ohio, he attended Case Institute of Technology, now Case Western Reserve University, receiving a BS in Physics in 1965. He received an MS and PhD from the University of Rochester in 1968 and 1969, respectively. His research focused on applying interferometry to metrology problems in several fields, including data storage, semiconductors, optical fabrication, and biomedicine. His career at the University of Arizona began in 1974 when he accepted a position as an assistant professor for the Optical Sciences Center. He was made a full professor in 1979. He authored more than 300 publications and gave invited talks on interferometry, holography, and optical testing. Wyant was an advisor to 34 graduated PhD students and 25 MS students.

In addition to his academic leadership, Wyant was known as an entrepreneur in the field. He had significant expertise in launching and growing industry corporations, having co-founded WYKO Corporation, 4D Technology and DMetrix. Wyant was a board of directors member for several organizations, including WYKO, ILX Lightwave, Veeco Instruments, Optics 1, DMetrix, and 4D Technology. His business acumen earned him industry accolades, including the University of Arizona College of Business and Public Administration Entrepreneurial Fellowship, Arizona's "Innovator of the Year" Product Award, the Tom Brown Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award, and the University of Arizona Technology Innovation Award.

In 1999, Wyant was named the Director of the Optical Science Center and became the college's founding dean in 2005. Wyant would play a pivotal role in the expansion of the college, and through generous gifts from the Wyant family totaling more than $32M, he would enable optics education for future generations.

Over the course of his career, Wyant would hold numerous volunteer positions with Optica, including editor-in-chief of Applied Optics, member of the Optics Letters Advisory Panel, associate and topical editor for both JOSA and Applied Optics, and associate editor of Optics Express. He also served as a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, chair of the Long-Range Planning Committee, chair of the Fraunhofer Award Committee, and member of the CLEO Optical Metrology Committee and Presidential Advisory Committee. Wyant was instrumental in planning the Society's 100th Anniversary in 2016, having served as co-chair of the Centennial Advisory Committee.

Jim Wyant will be remembered for his humor, kindness and devotion to his family and friends. He is survived by his wife Tammy and his son Clair. Optica and the scientific community mourn the loss of Jim Wyant.

For additional information regarding the legacy of Jim Wyant, please read the press release from the University of Arizona


The Optica community mourns the passing of 2010 Optica President Jim Wyant. Members have provided the following remembrances. If you wish to add a remembrance, please contact

"What a sad and unfortunate news. A major loss for the community. Jim is leaving a great void, but also a lasting and large legacy. "

Eric Mazur
2017 Optica President
Harvard University

"Jim achieved so much and yet was so modest, an example to us all. "
Chris Dainty
2011 Optica President

"I am indeed saddened by this news.  Jim was a quiet spoken gentleman, who knew how to be heard when he needed to be heard. "

Donna Strickland
2013 Optica President
University of Waterloo

"Jim was a good friend to me and to the Institute of Optics.   Much more will be said in the coming days about Jim's life and career.  For now, we can remember in great appreciation his friendship, his good humor and enjoyment of the optics community, his remarkable abilities as a teacher,  and of course his contributions to optical engineering that are still being used.   

What stands out is the Jim always wanted the best for the Institute, not only as his alma mater, but because he recognized the importance of a vibrant Institute within the larger world of optics.   His death is both a huge loss to the UA JC Wyant College of Optics, the Institute, and the entire optics community.  

Our friends and colleagues in Tucson have been hit hard over the last several years losing some of the giants in the optical engineering community.  Those of us left behind have a lot to live up to and a great deal for which to be thankful."

Thomas G. Brown
The Institute of Optics
University of Rochester

"Sad news indeed.  I worked with Jim and Rod in the presidential chain.  He was collaborative, professional, kind, knowledgeable, and fully supportive of Optica (then known as OSA).

We will miss him..."

Dr. Thomas M. Baer
2009 Optica President
Stanford University

“Jim was accepting and kind when I took an assistant professorship at the Optical Sciences Center fresh out of graduate school.  His perspectives on science, technology and academic life were all on point, and extremely helpful as I took the initial steps in my career. His good nature and sense of humor buoyed my spirits.

I am incredibly grateful for all that he shared.”

Ursula Gibson
2019 Optica President
Dartmouth College

“Jim was an amazingly generous and engaging member, leader, mentor and friend.”

Liz Rogan
Optica CEO

“I was very sorry to hear of Jim's passing. He was very well-known and influential in the Japanese optics community, both in academia and industry. He will be very missed here in Japan.  I myself received a lot of inspiration, advice, and encouragement from him over the years. Thank you, Jim.”

Satoshi Kawata
2022 Optica President
Nanophoton / Osaka University

“What sad news. Soon after I joined the faculty at Erlangen 30 years ago, Jim Wyant came as an invited guest and gave an enlightening seminar. This is when I first met him and began appreciating his many contributions to optical sciences. He is a prime example of someone wandering most successfully between the banks of the stream of science, fundamentals, and applications. And on top of this, he paid back to the community in a most laudable way.”

Gerd Leuchs
2024 Optica President
Max Planck Institute

“I will miss Jim. He was one of the most sincere and helpful people I have ever known.”

Alan Willner
2016 Optica President
University of Southern California

“I greatly enjoyed my time at the Optical Sciences Center as a student in the 70’s when OSC was quite new. When CREOL was founded in the 80’s, we used OSC as a model.  After I assumed the leadership position at CREOL, I visited OSC on several occasions when Jim Wyant was director with the goal of finding out as much as I could about OSC’s governance. This is when I got to know Jim well and was able to pick his brains multiple times.  He and his wife, Louise took my wife and me to dinner on one of these visits and showed us both a great time, and I learned much about his vision and goals.  While we were friendly competitors, i.e., for students, for faculty, etc., we were also collaborators in advancing optics/photonics research and education.  He was extremely helpful to me by sharing his academic, industrial, and entrepreneurial experience.  His mentorship helped us to create The College of Optics and Photonics, making me its founding dean. That was 2004. In 2005, Jim became the Founding Dean of the College of Optical Sciences.  He called me to kindly thank me as he/we think that our becoming a college gave him more political clout to start the college at the U of A.  This was a Big deal for both of us since that put us at the table where university decisions were made, including the division of $.  What Jim did for optics education and research is truly astounding, and his multiple legacies will endure forever.”

Eric Van Stryland
2006 Optica President
University of Central Florida, CREOL

“Something I didn't know about Jim Wyant was how extensive his philanthropy is.  Besides the recent gifts, he endowed two chairs at Rochester, one at his late wife's alma mater, a track and field center at Case Western, and then his $20M pledge for Arizona, and even some more outside of that pledge.

He will be missed.”

Tom Hausken
Senior Industry Advisor

“It's hard to believe that James is no longer with us. In the mid-1990s, I had the privilege of working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona. This was an incredibly fruitful time for my scientific path. James Wyant's commitment led to the founding of the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona. It was all the more honor for me to receive the OSA Fellow certificate in 2010 from OSA President James Wyant.

OPTICA expressed its appreciation by honoring James Wyant as an Honorary Member in 2023, and it was during my term on the Board that I had the honor of participating in the nomination process. Honorary membership honors those who have made unique and groundbreaking contributions to the field of optics. And James was a true visionary in the field of optics and photonics.

Ulrike Woggon
2021-2023 Director at Large, Optica Board of Directors
Technische Universitat Berlin




Awards & Distinctions

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