In Memoriam: James T. Schwiegerling

April 12, 2023
Schweigerling Memoriam

Dr. James T. Schwiegerling, Emeritus Professor of Optical Sciences, passed away on April 5, 2023.  Jim had retired this past March from the University of Arizona after a valiant battle with cancer in which he prevailed for many years.

A native of New York, Jim was born in Amityville in 1968 and received his B.S. and M.S. in Optics from the University of Rochester, receiving scholarship awards from Eastman Kodak where he interned over the summers.  He then traveled to Arizona and earned his PhD in Optical Sciences from OSC in 1995 studying under Prof. John E. Greivenkamp with his thesis entitled, “Visual Performance Prediction Using Schematic Eye Models.”

Following a few years as a Research Scientist, Jim first joined the University of Arizona faculty in 1998 in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, progressing to full professor and switching his primary appointment in 2010 to the College of Optical Sciences.  In 2020, Jim was honored with the prestigious appointment to the Robert R. Shannon Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences.

Prof. Schwiegerling enjoyed a prodigious and impactful career in optical engineering for many years, gaining tremendous respect from his peers and the optics community for his compelling contributions in both education and research. Jim’s research spanned innovations from wavefront sensing to optical system design, with a particular focus in ophthalmic applications.  He published 117 archival journal and proceedings papers, seven book chapters, and three books including the popular SPIE “Field Guide to Visual and Ophthalmic Optics”

 “Jim was an excellent teacher and a pioneering researcher.  While his life was too short, his research will live on and help millions of people in the future.  His death is a great loss to the College of Optical Sciences and to the world of optics and ophthalmology,” said Jim Wyant, Professor Emeritus and Founding Dean of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences.

Jim was also widely recognized as a remarkable champion of students.  In addition to his outstanding and engaging teaching of core components of the optical engineering curriculum, Jim mentored and supervised degrees for 40 M.S. and 19 Ph.D. students with several more students currently in their studies.

One of Jim’s M.S. students, and generous donor to the college, Dr. Sean McCafferty recalls, “Jim was an amazing mentor and always encouraging with a healthy dose of pragmatism.  Jim's and my conversations typically followed the noted script:


Sean:  (excited) Let me show you this amazing new idea for focusing light and correcting aberrations!...

Jim:  That's a very interesting way to do it and may work. You could simplify it if you consider doing this...and you'd need to watch what happens here...

Sean:  I see, you're right..ok, what if we do this?.....

Jim:  ......(iterative process)”

Schwiegerling award

Dr. Jim Schwiegerling's Award for Innovator of the Year – Academia, Governor’s Celebration of Innovation 2021

Tech Launch Arizona

Jim received many awards and recognitions for his contributions to the field of optics, including his election to Fellow of SPIE and Fellow of Optica.  Also noteworthy were Jim’s nine patents, including his invention of Diffractive Trifocal Lenses that has been one of the most impactful patents in the history of the University of Arizona.  His design for this implantable cataract replacement lens allowed for patients to regain distance, mid-range, and near vision, possibly eliminating the need for glasses or contacts for some.

Jim received many prestigious awards for his innovations, including Tech Launch Arizona’s Inventor of the Year in 2020, Southern Arizona Innovation Leader of the Year in 2021, and the Arizona Innovator of the Year in Academic at the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation in 2021.

“Jim has been an amazing collaborator and innovator since the day I arrived in Arizona ten years ago,” said Doug Hockstad, Associate Vice President, Tech Launch Arizona. “His passion for impacting the world was evident in every interaction he had with TLA, and even more so in his willingness to travel overseas to have his invention implanted in his own eyes. Everyone in TLA, everyone that has been impacted by his work, will miss him tremendously.”

 “We have all enjoyed tremendously Jim’s strength, energy, creativity, and wonderful congenial spirit over the years, whether as a dear colleague, through his fantastic contributions to the fields of optics and ophthalmology, or through his immeasurable positive impact on the students, faculty, and staff at the College,” said Thomas L. Koch, dean of the Wyant College of Optical Sciences.  “We will miss him beyond words.”

Jim is survived by his father and step mother, Paul and Beverly Schwiegerling, his wife Diana Glennon, and his two children Max and Marie, both students at the University of Arizona.

A memorial will be held for Jim starting at 3PM on Friday, May 5 in the Meinel Auditorium at the Wyant College of Optical Sciences.

Jim’s family has requested that those wishing to make donations in memory of Jim direct their gifts to the ARVO Foundation for Eye Research.