UA to Honor James W. Mayo, as 2018 Alumnus of the Year in Optical Sciences

Oct. 26, 2018
Jim Mayo AZ AOY






The award is part of the University of Arizona’s Homecoming festivities this October

Tucson, AZ - The University of Arizona Alumni Association has announced that James W. Mayo III, Chief Optics Engineer, Tau Technologies LLC (M.S. in Optical Sciences, 1968), has been selected as the 2018 Alumnus of the Year for the College of Optical Sciences. This coveted award will be presented at a special ceremony on October 26 as part of the University’s homecoming celebrations.

"Having dedicated his career to help advance the optics technology, Jim also holds an historical role in establishing a critically needed research and education center, the College of Optical Sciences. His selfless commitment to providing generous opportunities to future optical scientists with scholarship also makes him worthy of this recognition,” said Thomas L. Koch, Ph.D., dean of the College of Optical Sciences.

James (Jim) W. Mayo III played an instrumental role in the creation of the College of Optical Sciences. The Optical Sciences Center (OSC) originated as an idea in the early 1960s supported by the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology in collaboration with Dr. Aden Meinel.

Second Lieutenant Jim Mayo, with the Optics Section at the Air Force Avionics Lab at Wright-Patterson AFB, was assigned to help make the concept a reality in the hope that the center would become a means to meet a growing need for talented scientists and engineers in the field of optics.

After OSC was established, Jim transitioned into his new role as a student by enrolling in its graduate degree program. Then, in August 1968, Jim became the first student to receive a degree from OSC, graduating with a Master of Science Degree in Optical Sciences. His undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics was achieved in 1963 from the University of Tennessee where he was also recognized as an Air Force Distinguished Graduate.

Jim’s passion for optics and astronomy began at a very young age and even resulted in his election to the Memphis Astronomical Society’s Board of Directors at the age of sixteen. Within the society, Jim was an active member serving on the Harvard College Observatory Meteor Watch and on the Smithsonian Institute’s Operation Moon Watch. He also participated in the society’s telescope making and observational astronomy programs including their outreach and education programs.

After obtaining his B.S. from the University of Tennessee, Jim went to the Air Force Avionics Lab at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. There, he worked as a research scientist and project officer on a variety of Air Force optics programs. He also worked closely with NASA astronauts evaluating optical systems in the Gemini and Apollo space programs.

Jim’s career continued to accelerate with opportunities in multiple assignments from the Air Force, including Secretary of the Air Force Special Projects Office at Space and Missile Systems Organization; Site Commander of the Cloudcroft Electro-optical Observatory; Program Manager for optical and infrared programs, Defense Nuclear Agency; and Chief of the Optical Systems Section, the Advanced Optics Branch, and the Optics and Beam Control Division Air Force Weapons Lab (now the Air Force Research Lab) at Kirtland AFB.

Retiring in 1985 from the Air Force did not slow Jim down. He joined Logicon RDA in Albuquerque, NM and headed their Opto-mechanical Engineering Department. He then proceeded to carry out a 25-year long civilian career in which he had a role in over 200 projects in lasers, telescopes, large optics, optical facility development, technology transfer, optical coatings, optical design, and optical metrology. Meanwhile, Jim also served as the principal technical advisor for the Air Force Starfire Optical Range (SOR) 3.5-m telescope, the Advanced Electro-optical System (AEOS) 3.67-m telescope, and served as Northrop Grumman Chief Scientist for the Missile Defense Agency’s Airborne Laser beam control and turret optical systems.

Today, Jim holds the position of Chief Optics Engineer at Tau Technologies LLC, in Albuquerque NM. A role he has overseen since 2010. His charge focuses on lightweight and transportable telescopes, advanced technology telescope design, daylight imaging applications for large telescopes, wide-field space surveillance systems, novel optical imaging system development and evaluation, and optics project consultation.

Across the many paths Jim has taken in his education and career, he has never forgotten the impact the College of Optical Sciences had on him.

In October 2014, at the OSC’s 50th anniversary celebration, Jim made another significant contribution to the College by funding a graduate student scholarship endowment. The James Mayo Family Graduate Student Scholarship in Optical Sciences is now a part of the college’s FoTO (Friends of Tucson Optics) scholarship program, providing a first-year graduate student with a $20,000 stipend and a tuition waiver. For this commitment to supporting students with scholarship, Jim was inducted into the College of Optical Sciences Principal of Opticks Society and the University of Arizona’s Old Main Society

Globally known for its foremost teaching and research programs, the College of Optical Sciences’ reputation is a testament to the brilliance and dedication of its students, alumni and faculty who have pioneered scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs, introducing remarkable new ways that optics will affect the quality of lives.

 “Jim has had a long and very successful career in optics, inter-twined with the history of the College of Optical Sciences as promoter, student, and financial supporter of future students. His impact on the College is deservedly recognized by the University as our Alumnus of the Year for 2018,” said Dean Koch.

“As the College’s very first alumnus, Jim certainly exemplifies the principals of this honor. It is especially gratifying that it is being offered on the 50th anniversary year of his degree,” Koch added.

Jim and his wife, Linda, live in Placitas NM and in their spare time enjoy music, photography and extensive world travel.


About the University of Arizona James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences: 

The University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences, founded as the Optical Sciences Center, has been shaping the future since 1964 by offering high-quality instruction, cutting-edge research and a solid commitment to the development of the optics industry. OSC remains dedicated to providing the state of Arizona and the nation with an internationally pre-eminent program in all aspects of the study of light. For more information, please visit or call 520-621-6997.


Kaye Rowan, Sr. Director of Development
UA Wyant College of Optical Sciences