Meadowlark Optics, SPIE, and the University of Colorado Boulder Announce $2.5 Million Endowed Chair in Optics and Photonics at JILA

Submitted by rebeccajj on Thu, 06/18/2020 - 7:01 am
Laser oscillator in the KM Lab at JILA

Laser oscillator in the KM Lab at JILA. A $2.5 million gift from Tom and Jeanne Baur, SPIE and CU will fund the first Endowed Chair at JILA in optics and photonics.

Image Credit
Rebecca Jacobson/JILA

Thanks to generous donations, JILA will have its first-ever endowed chair position for optics and photonics research. The Baur-SPIE Endowed Chair in Optics and Photonics will be funded by a gift of $1.5 million from private donors Tom and Jeanne Baur of Meadowlark Optics, and a $500,000 matching gift from SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. In addition, CU Boulder is contributing $500,000 from the university.

By providing comprehensive support for a faculty chair, the $2.5 million fund will enable JILA to expand its research and education capacity in optical physics and photonics. The chair is designed for early-to-mid-career researchers affiliated with groups historically under-represented at CU Boulder, as well as academics who have an established interest in teaching and mentoring.

Tom and Jeanne Baur share a moment with CU mascot Ralphie.

Image Credit
Meadowlark Optics

Tom Baur, a first-generation college student at the University of Michigan, received a master’s in astro-geophysics in 1969 from CU Boulder and then worked for 13 years as an observational astronomer at the High Altitude Observatory, a division of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. He later founded Meadowlark Optics, now located in Frederick, Colorado.

The company has benefited from its partnerships with JILA and CU Boulder faculty and students. Both institutions have been a significant source of employees for Meadowlark Optics, and the company has had successful joint research programs with the university and with NIST. In 2018, Baur was the recipient of the SPIE G.G. Stokes Award for a lifetime of leadership in polarization optical components, and for revolutionizing the polarization field through commercialization of liquid crystal variable retarders.

“Jeanne and I have been lifelong learners, and much of that learning has been outside the classroom,” Baur noted. “We have a strong respect for the hard work of the optical research community at JILA that we are supporting. We hope that our contribution will inspire others to contribute to the advancement of optical research at JILA and elsewhere.”

The Baur’s gift is matched by SPIE as part of the SPIE Endowment Matching Program. Established in 2019, the SPIE Endowment Matching Program is a $2.5 million, five-year, educational-funding initiative designed to increase international capacity in the teaching and research of optics and photonics. SPIE supports optics and photonics education and the future of the industry by contributing up to $500,000 per award to college and university programs with optics and photonics degrees, or with other disciplines allied to the SPIE mission.

“This generous gift from Tom and Jeanne will give JILA the opportunity to expand its optics and photonics focus by hiring from the best and the brightest of teaching researchers,” said SPIE President John Greivenkamp. “We are delighted to support higher education and research—a core purpose of SPIE—by creating this endowed faculty position with the Baur family. The chair holder will be a critical supporter of current and future generations of optics and photonics scientists and engineers, and we are excited to be a part of this far-reaching effort.”

“We are very excited about a partnership that will support our continued emphasis on diversity and inclusion in STEM fields,” said CU Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “JILA’s contributions to optics and photonics research have led to advances in basic research and to practical applications for industry and technology. As a joint part of JILA, we’re proud to support this endowed chair, which prioritizes teaching and mentoring.”

JILA’s optics and photonics researchers are leaders in the field, particularly in creating ultrafast laser pulses. JILA researchers have developed lasers that deliver pulses in femtosecond (10-15 second or one quadrillionth of a second) and attosecond (10-18 second or one quintillionth of a second) pulses. Those speeds are fast enough to capture phenomenon like the formation of molecules and the movement of electrons. JILA’s optics research has also advanced scientists’ control of new, powerful wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet and X-ray. 

“JILA is extremely grateful for this generous gift by Tom and Jeanne Baur, CU, and SPIE. We are thrilled for their support of the research and teaching activities in optics and photonics at JILA,” said JILA Chair Andreas Becker. “This endowed chair position will truly make a difference in our abilities to attract the best educators and brightest scientists in this area now and in future.”

Written by Rebecca Jacobson

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