In Memoriam: James B. Breckinridge

June 27, 2022
Breckinridge Memoriam

Dr. James (Jim) B. Breckinridge, an alumnus and adjunct professor at Wyant College, passed away June 12, 2022. He also held, at the time of his passing, an academic appointment at Caltech as a visiting associate in aeronautics.

Born in Cleveland, OH, Jim earned a BS in physics at Case University and his MS (1969) and PhD (1976) at the University of Arizona in optical sciences. Jim’s astronomy career included working as an astronomical research assistant at Lick Observatory where he collaborated with G. E. Kron on six-color photoelectric photometry and built an electronographic camera, also for photometry. After an interlude in industry (Rauland Corporation) designing electron optics & image intensifier tubes in Chicago, he returned to graduate school in Tucson.

At the Solar Division of KPNO he spent five years completing & publishing a wavelength atlas of the solar spectrum, before entering into the doctorate program at the Optical Sciences Center. Upon completing his PhD, he moved to NASA JPL, where he held a number of engineering & management positions, eventually to become the chief technologist of the NASA exoplanet program in 2003. In 2010, he retired from “the Lab” after 33 years of service.

Jim holds six patents for innovative optical systems and authored more than 95 publications on astronomy, physical optics, spectroscopy, and image science. He also served as SPIE President in 1994.

Jim and his wife, Ann, have been long-time donors to the Wyant College, supporting teaching laboratories and scholarships. In 2020, they established the James B. Breckinridge Endowment in Optical Science and Engineering to support the preservation of the College’s history and its founding faculty’s research.

Breckinridge Book in Academic Programs

In addition to this philanthropic support, after several years of research and over 200 hours of interviews, Jim co-authored a book with Dr. Alec Pridgeon called With Stars in Their Eyes: The Extraordinary Lives and Enduring Genius of Aden and Marjorie Meinel. Sharing the remarkable stories of Drs. Aden and Marjorie Meinel and their profound influence on the world of science, the book also focuses on Aden’s vision and work to establish at the University of Arizona, the Optical Sciences Center (now Wyant College of Optical Sciences).  

Now available from Oxford publishing Book: With Stars in Their-Eyes, Marjorie and Aden Meinel, Jim generously donated ten copies to Wyant College. His desire when making this donation was to encourage the interests of both present and future generations of faculty and students to learn and appreciate the Aden and Marjorie’s brilliant work, as well as, the College’s rich history.     

Read more about Dr. James Breckinridge in the College’s Etendue column: James B. Breckinridge