Frederick-based Meadowlark Optics founder’s donation results in endowed chair in optics, photonics at CU Boulder

Position designed for younger researchers from historically underrepresented groups


BOULDER — The University of Colorado last week announced a new $2.5 million endowed chair at JILA, a joint institute of the university and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to support research in optics and photonics.

A CU Boulder release announcing the Baur-SPIE Endowed Chair in Optics and Photonics said it is designed for early- to mid-career researchers from groups that are historically underrepresented at the campus, as well as academics who have an established interest in teaching and mentoring.

According to the release, Tom and Jeanne Baur donated $1.5 million to create the endowed chair to benefit photonics and optics research and programming. Their gift received matching contributions of $500,000 from the International Society for Optics and Photonics and CU Boulder contributed $500,000.

The $2.5 million fund will enable JILA to expand its research and education capacity in optical physics and photonics. Optics and photonics research is responsible for the development and rapid advancement of lasers, which are now used in everyday life from computers to manufacturing to surgery, the release states.

“We are very excited about a partnership that will support our continued emphasis on diversity and inclusion in STEM fields,” Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said in a written statement. “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.”

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

According to the release, the company has benefited from its partnerships with JILA and CU Boulder faculty and students: Both institutions have been a source of employees for Meadowlark Optics, and the company has had joint research programs with the university and with NIST.

In 2018, Baur received 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. It is this technology that improves precision measurement tools that are used in a range of fields from studying solar physics to biology, the release states.

“Jeanne and I have been lifelong learners, and much of that learning has been outside the classroom,” Baur stated in the release. “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.”

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