James C. Wyant

Honorary Doctor of Science from the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences
James Wyant

Professor, dean, business leader and philanthropist. Through all these roles, James C. Wyant has had a deep and lasting impact on the University of Arizona and the field of optical sciences. 

An Ohio native, Wyant received his Bachelor of Science from Case Western Reserve University in 1965 and his doctorate in 1969 from the University of Rochester's Institute of Optics. He worked in the industry for six years at Itek Corp. in Boston before joining the University of Arizona in 1974 as an assistant professor of optical sciences in what was then known as the Optical Sciences Center.  

Along with his work with the university, Wyant co-founded WYKO Corp. in 1982. The company – which came about after the invention of a computerized interferometer for high-precision measurements of the roughness and shape of surfaces – was purchased by Veeco Instruments in 1997. In 1999, Wyant became the director of the Optical Science Center and led its transition to a college in 2005 as the founding dean. As dean, he oversaw tremendous growth in research, as well as the expansion of the Meinel Optical Sciences building, which added 47,000 square feet of state-of-the-art teaching and research space. 

The Wyant family has given more than $32 million in support of optical sciences faculty and students. In 2013, the family gifted $10 million for graduate student scholarships in a matching campaign called Friends of Tucson Optics. The donation brought in 250 additional contributors, resulting in 30 first-year graduate student-endowed scholarships at the college. In 2018, the family pledged $20 million in support of 10 new endowed faculty positions as part of a second matching campaign. This commitment was the largest gift for endowed faculty chair positions in the university's history and, with matching from other generous donors and an additional $1 million in funding from the family, the endowed chair campaign netted $28 million for the college's endowment, ensuring support for 14 endowed faculty positions.  

In 2019, the college was named the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences in recognition of Wyant's role as founding dean, his dedication to inspiring through teaching, his pioneering innovations in optics and photonics, and his deeply generous philanthropy to enable education in optics. 

Wyant is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors and has served as president of both Optica and SPIE, the two major international professional societies in optics. He has been recognized for his technical work with numerous awards, including the Ives Medal, the highest award given by Optica, and the Gold Medal, the highest award given by SPIE. 

He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Rochester, Case Western Reserve University and the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics in Puebla, Mexico. In 2002, Wyant co-founded Tucson-based 4D Technology Corp., which sold to Nanometrics in 2018, and he has served on the board of directors of several other optics companies.