James C. Wyant ’67 (MS), ’69 (PhD), ’21 (Honorary) and Tammy Wyant commit $12M to the Institute of Optics to strengthen its preeminent status

James C. Wyant ’67 (MS), ’69 (PhD), ’21 (Honorary) and Tammy Wyant commit $12M to the Institute of Optics

Gift strengthens the institute’s preeminent status, creates a challenge fund, and will increase its faculty by 50 percent

headshot of Jim and Tammy Wyant

Jim and Tammy Wyant

University of Rochester life trustee James C. Wyant ’67 (MS), ’69 (PhD), ’21 (Honorary) and his wife, Tammy Wyant, have established a $12 million professorship challenge to support the Institute of Optics and set the course for its continued growth, groundbreaking research, leadership, and scholarship. The Wyant Optics Challenge Fund is a 10-year initiative that will increase the institute’s faculty by 50 percent and advance its preeminent position in the field of optics.

Specifically, the Wyant Optics Challenge will create 10 endowed professorships—five distinguished professorships for renowned faculty and five professorships for early-career faculty. This will allow the institute to increase its number of full-time faculty members from 20 to 30, with most of the appointments expected to occur by the institute’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2029. While the new faculty will have primary appointments in optics, many will also have secondary appointments in other science and engineering units across the University, including the Medical Center and at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. The challenge also includes funding for one visiting professorship and resources for staff.

Optica, a leading society in optics and photonics (formerly known as the Optical Society of America), has signed on as the first Wyant Challenge partner. Optica’s gift establishes the Donna Strickland and Optica Distinguished Professorship in Optics, which will support a leader in the field of optics with a primary appointment within the institute. It will also honor one of the University’s most distinguished alumni, Donna Strickland ’89 (PhD), a recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.

“Jim and Tammy’s generosity is truly transformational,” says Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, president and G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professor. “Their vision and partnership will help us recruit leading scholars in optics and photonics in an increasingly competitive environment, help us strengthen our position as a top-tier private research university, and fuel the incredible research being done by our faculty scholars. The fact that Optica has already come on board is a testament to the important work being done here.”

“Tammy and I made this gift to increase opportunities for world-class training and research in optics,” says Wyant. “Optics is a technology-enabler and a huge part of daily life, yet there are few universities in the world that have a comprehensive educational and research program in optics. The Institute of Optics, where I went to graduate school, is one place where you can get a well-rounded education in optics, and the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, where I spent a large part of my career, is another. A few years ago, Tammy and I, along with my son, Clair, started a matching program for hiring new optics faculty at the University of Arizona. It’s working out well, so we decided to establish a similar program at the University of Rochester.”

“Because of the Wyants’ tremendous support, our Institute of Optics will continue to play a key role in advancing the field of optics—now and into the future,” says Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences. “These professorships provide a way for us to remain competitive, increase the institute’s impact, honor some of our most prestigious alumni, fulfill a need to recruit outstanding early- to mid-career faculty, and continue to offer our undergraduate and graduate students exemplary faculty scholars, research and job placement opportunities, and an alumni community with which to network.”

“Optics and photonics is an enabling technology that helps solve critical social challenges,” says Liz Rogan, chief executive officer at Optica. “We want to attract the best-in-class scientific minds to embrace the excitement of this field and we are grateful for the support Jim and Tammy have offered.”

“I’m so thankful to Jim and Tammy Wyant and to Optica for such a generous commitment,” says Strickland. “The Institute of Optics and Optica have both been an important part of my career, and my hope is that this will inspire a new generation of faculty and graduate students toward wonderful achievements.”

For each new endowment created, the Wyant Optics Challenge Fund will provide 60 percent of the required funding. “For those thinking about a large gift, $1.5 million to establish a professorship might be out of reach, but $600,000—which is what it will take now with the match that the Wyants are providing—might be feasible,” adds Heinzelman.

“The collective generosity here—from Jim and Tammy, Optica, and others soon—is instrumental to the institute’s growth and success,” says Tom Brown, director, Institute of Optics. “It will help us create a much-needed pipeline of diverse, creative, and committed faculty whose new ideas and work as educators and researchers will drive and shape not only the institute’s future but the optics industry as a whole.”

Adds Wyant, “The demand for hiring optics graduates is much larger than the supply, so we need to increase that supply. This fund will help the University of Rochester add exceptional optics faculty, which, in turn, will open up more opportunities for students seeking a career in optics.”

Jim Wyant Headshot

Jim Wyant

James C. Wyant—a leader in the optics industry and higher education

Wyant has contributed significantly not only to the field of optics, but also to two universities that pride themselves on optics research and education—the University of Rochester, where he received his MS (1967) and PhD (1969) in optics, and the University of Arizona.

Wyant was the founding dean and continues as professor emeritus of the College of Optical Sciences now named the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, at the University of Arizona, where he joined the faculty in 1974 and has advised nearly 60 graduate students. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics since 1983. He serves on the University’s Board of Trustees, on the Hajim Dean’s Advisory Council and on its Optics Blue Ribbon Panel, and as a member of the George Eastman Circle, the University’s leadership annual giving society. He is also the recipient of the Hajim School’s Distinguished Alumnus Award and was recently awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the University.

Wyant is co-editor or co-author of six books on optics, has written more than 300 professional publications, holds 10 patents, and often lectures on interferometry, holography, and optical testing. He has helped launch and direct such start-up companies as WYKO Corporation and 4D Technology. He has been president and an active member at the Optical Society of America (OSA)—now known as Optica—and the SPIE (International Society for Optical Engineering). He is also an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

In 2001, Wyant honored his former optics professor by establishing the M. Parker Givens Professorship of Optics at the University of Rochester. Then, in 2013, he established the Dr. James C. Wyant Professorship in Optics at the University.

About the Institute of Optics

The Institute of Optics is the nation’s original institution for groundbreaking research and education in the fields of optics, photonics, and laser science and technology. As an academic department within the Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, the institute has a current enrollment of more than 300 students and has awarded nearly 3,000 degrees, about half of all degrees ever awarded in optics within the U.S. Through rigorous academic instruction, laboratory exercises, informal events, and networking opportunities, faculty and staff at the institute are dedicated to providing a challenging and enjoyable educational and research experience in the broad field of optics.

Jim Wyant’s impact

“Jim Wyant graduated from the Institute of Optics about 10 years before me. His career served as both a guidepost and inspiration for where one’s own professional path could go. I first met Jim when I was completing my graduate studies and interviewed for an academic position at the University of Arizona. He kindly provided a detailed tour of his research laboratory. Although I ultimately decided to pursue a career in industry, throughout the years, Jim became an incredible role model to me, and of course, many others. His awards and honors may speak to a long list of impressive achievements, but not to the man and his personal and philanthropic impact.

Early in my career, I was advised to seek opportunities based on the quality of those people with whom I would get to work. One of the best examples of that was to have been able to serve as Optica’s treasurer during Jim’s tenure as its president. Jim is one of those sought-after, highly-respected people you hope you have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from. Among his many attributes, he is thoughtful, humble, and ready to share his knowledge and insights.

In many ways, I think you can compare Jim’s accomplishments to a superfecta. He has succeeded as a teacher, engineer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. His business achievements have enabled him and Tammy to play a key role in advancing the field of optics through this transformative gift. It will have a long-term impact on the entire optical community and will dramatically advance optics education in the U.S. We owe him our deepest gratitude.”

Steve Fantone 79 (PhD)
Founder and President, Optikos Corporation

“Jim Wyant is both a gentleman and a pillar of the optics community. I first met him when he was visiting faculty at the Institute of Optics in the early 1980s. I was a graduate student at the time. A few years later, I visited him in Tucson where he was teaching at the University of Arizona and running his companies, which were located there. It was hard to tell from the modest presentation by this gracious man that he was a founder and owner of successful optics companies. He did well with them and told me that his intellectual property and patents were core to his business success. That singular comment influenced many decisions made by the company, LaserMax, which I co-founded; we patented nearly all of our inventions as a result.

Jim has always expressed his vision through his actions—as dean of the College of Optical Sciences (which is now the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences at University of Arizona) and later through his philanthropy. There have been wonderful philanthropists in the optics community over the years, but I can think of no one who has had more systemic influence on optics education than Jim Wyant. Who knows what discoveries and accomplishments will be made possible by Jim’s generosity? Time will tell, but we already know from the many graceful and generous things that he has done that he will have an outsized impact on the field of optics for many years to come.”

Susan Houde-Walter ’83 (MS), ’87 (PhD)
Director, Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology

Join us

For more information on the Wyant Optics Challenge and how you can support the Institute of Optics, contact Tyrone Jimmison, executive director of Hajim Advancement, or Derek Swanson, director of Hajim Advancement.

Learn more in the September 19 University of Rochester Newscenter story.

Kristine Kappel Thompson, September 2022