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News
Optics professor receives award for teaching, research advancements


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DAVID HARDEN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
James C. Wyant, director of the Optical Sciences Center at the UA, was recently awarded the Gold Medal from the International Society for Optical Engineering for his achievements in teaching as well as his work in interferometry.
By Ashley Nowe
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday September 3, 2003

Paraxial properties, material qualification, ellipsometry, aberrations, basic interferometers this may sound like a foreign language to most, but understanding this with ease has driven optical sciences professor James C. Wyant to the top of his field.

Wyant, director of the UA Optical Sciences Center, was awarded the 2003 Gold Medal by the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), for his contributions as a teacher and for his technological advancements in optical science.

"I think it's great," said Jack D. Gaskill, UA professor emeritus of optical sciences. "He has certainly been one of the major contributors to the field."

SPIE, a worldwide networking organization for those involved in optics, honors one member a year for achievements in the field.

"This award is special because it is given to people that dedicate their lifetime to the field," said Robert R. Shannon, a retired optical sciences professor and winner of the award in 1996. "His award is very well deserved."

Besides teaching at the UA for over 30 years, Wyant has proved himself an expert in the field of interferometry, the method of superimposing two beams of light in order to study their patterns and then determine the flatness of a surface.

This method is used to improve the accuracy of telescope mirrors and camera lenses.

"Interferometers are very important when making a telescope mirror or camera lens," Wyant said. "The light reflections must be exact in order to have a working lens or mirror and an interferometer is the way in which this is measured."

Wyant has developed new types of interferometers, including a phase-shifting interferometer, which will be used in the binocular telescope on Mount Graham.

A phase-shifting interferometer allows astronomers to gain a precise measurement of a celestial body or the distance between two bodies, by automatically reporting the light measurements to a computer, which calculates the information more accurately than would be otherwise possible, Wyant said.

"This is probably the biggest improvement with interferometer technology that we have seen in 20 years," Wyant said.

Wyant, also an entrepreneur, created the Wyko Corporation in 1982, one of the first companies to produce in-line interferometers, which are used to study hard disk drives in computers and maximize their storage capacity, Wyant said.

During Wyant's 15-year ownership, he remained a teacher at the UA.

"I really like teaching," said Wyant. "At different points in my career I appreciated researching more, but right now I am enjoying teaching."

Wyant teaches a second-year graduate course on optical testing.

"He has spent his time in this industry for years," Shannon said. "He has given himself not only to the academic world, but also to the development of optics."

Wyant is the fifth UA faculty member to be awarded the SPIE Gold Medal since 1987.

Previous SPIE award winners include the inventor of the Polaroid camera.

SPIE includes approximately 16,000 professionals in about 65 countries, Gaskill said.

"This is one of the most prestigious awards that the field has to offer," Shannon said. "It is the honor of a lifetime."


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