Published: June 18, 2020 By
Student working on a laser in a lab at JILA

The endowed faculty chair will enhance learning for students to study nanoscale systems related to optics and photonics across JILA research disciplines at CU Boulder. (Credit: CU Boulder)

A new $2.5 million endowed chair at JILA, a joint institute of CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), will open doors to early-to-mid-career researchers from historically underrepresented groups, as well as academics who have an established interest in teaching and mentoring.

The new endowed chair and related photonics and optics research and programming are a reality because of CU Boulder donors Tom and Jeanne Baur.

With a 3:1 match of $1.5 million, the Baur family made the lead gift in conjunction with $500,000 from the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) to create the Baur-SPIE Endowed Chair in Optics and Photonics. CU Boulder also invested $500,000.


CU Boulder donors and self-proclaimed lifelong learners Jeanne and Tom Baur led the way with a $1.5 million gift to establish an endowed chair in optics and photonics at JILA.

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 faculty chair is designed for early-to-mid-career researchers affiliated with groups historically underrepresented at CU Boulder, as well as academics who have an established interest in teaching and mentoring.

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

Tom Baur, a first-generation college student at the University of Michigan, received a master’s in astro-geophysics in 1969 from CU Boulder. He 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. Baur  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. It is this technology that improves precision measurement tools that are used in a range of fields from studying solar physics to biology.

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

SPIE President John Greivenkamp said the Baurs’ generous gift will give JILA the opportunity to expand its optics and photonics focus by hiring from the best and the brightest of teaching researchers.

“We are delighted to support higher education and research — a core purpose of SPIE — by creating this endowed faculty position with the Baur family,” Greivenkamp said. “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.”