Texas A&M University and the Colleges of Science and Engineering will celebrate the official naming of the Charles R. '62 and Judith G. Munnerlyn Astronomical Laboratory and Space Engineering Building Friday (Sept. 19) in a 4:30 p.m. ceremony on the Texas A&M campus.

The event will be held on the second floor of the Munnerlyn Building, located at the corner of University Drive and Asbury Street on the northwest side of the Northside Parking Garage. Parking will be available in the garage.

Dr. Munnerlyn, who received his bachelor's degree in physics from Texas A&M in 1962 and a doctorate in optical engineering from the University of Rochester in 1969, is considered one of the founding fathers of laser vision correction, a revolutionary procedure that has enabled millions of people to have 20/20 vision without glasses or contacts. He designed and built the first excimer laser system for vision correction and founded VISX Inc., the leading manufacturer of laser vision correction systems in the United States.

Invited speakers include Dr. Ed J. Davis '67, president of the Texas A&M Foundation; Dr. Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice president for academics at Texas A&M; Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the Texas A&M College of Science; Dr. Edward S. Fry, professor and head of the Texas A&M Department of Physics; Dr. David C. Hyland, professor of aerospace engineering at Texas A&M; and Dr. Charles R. Munnerlyn, who is a member of the College of Science's Academy of Distinguished Former Students.

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved the naming of the building in recognition of the Munnerlyns and their multiple gifts to Texas A&M, which include a charitable remainder unitrust. Their gifts have helped to fund three endowed faculty positions in the Department of Physics -- chairs in both observational astronomy and quantum optics and a professorship in physics -- as well as an endowed fund to support departmental programs and activities.

"The Department of Physics is truly pleased to have a man of Dr. Munnerlyn's stature as a former graduate," Fry said. "When we were desperate for space in 2004, Dr. Munnerlyn provided critical assistance to acquire this building. The astronomical laboratory facilities it houses will provide a perfect match to our new George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy that is under construction."

In addition to an official name, Friday's ceremony commemorates the completion of a total renovation of the building -- formerly home to the Texas A&M System Facilities Planning and Construction Division -- under Texas A&M's five-year faculty reinvestment program. The building will provide astronomical laboratories and other research-related endeavors for the Texas A&M astronomy program. In addition, it will house equipment and facilities pertaining to outreach efforts in the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

"For Texas A&M to become a more recognized university, it needs programs in research that will attract major interest," Munnerlyn said. "By combining my contributions with those of George Mitchell and others, Texas A&M is in a position to become a leader in a field in which I have had an interest all my life.

"Over the next 20 years, there will be a steady stream of interesting discoveries about the Universe. Texas A&M and the new tools our researchers develop will be a leading factor in those discoveries."

Regarded as one of the nation's outstanding scientists and entrepreneurs, Munnerlyn has been described as a "physicist-engineer with a vision-researching vision," a reference to his extraordinary contributions to optical research and development. He holds more than 30 U.S. patents in the field of optics, an enduring fascination that he says began in the seventh grade.

"From about the 7th grade on, I had an interest in optical instruments while others might have built model airplanes or ham radio stations," Munnerlyn said. "This interest carried through high school, and I was lucky enough to have a science teacher who encouraged participation in science fairs and other projects. Eventually this interest led to a lifelong career."

As an undergraduate at Texas A&M, Munnerlyn majored in physics and took astronomy courses from Professor Jack Kent, a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics who taught the only optics course offered by the university at the time. Munnerlyn also worked as an assistant in Kent's summer astronomy program for high school students and credits his relationship with Kent as key to his subsequent graduate work in optics.

Following a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Munnerlyn continued his studies at the prestigious Institute of Optics at Rochester, receiving his Ph.D. in optical engineering in 1969. He remained in the Rochester area as head of research and development for Tropel, a company that designed prototype custom lenses for applications that included Xerox copiers, Polaroid cameras, satellites and semiconductor photolithography. In the early 1970s, he designed the first automatic digital device to measure refractive errors in the eye. He also developed a pressure test to detect glaucoma before pioneering his revolutionary laser systems for vision correction.

In a lesser known but equally groundbreaking achievement, Munnerlyn also calculated the basic formulas -- now known as the "Munnerlyn formula" -- that told ophthalmologists how much corneal tissue to remove in the actual laser vision correction procedure.

Munnerlyn, who lives in San Jose, Calif., is a 2002 distinguished alumnus of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Rochester. He was honored this past spring with the Rochester Distinguished Scholar Award for his rigorous and innovative scholarly work.

In 2001 Munnerlyn was named Engineer of the Year by Design News magazine. That same year he received the Stevens Honor Award in recognition of his pioneering technology and achievements in vision correction. In 2007 he was honored with the Optical Society of America's Edwin H. Land Medal for pioneering entrepreneurial creativity that has had a major public impact.

Although retired since 2005, Munnerlyn continues to contribute to new technology at VISX and advise engineering staff on key projects.

For more information on the naming ceremony, including driving directions and parking, please contact the Texas A&M College of Science at (979) 845-7361.

To learn more about astronomy at Texas A&M, visit http://www.physics.tamu.edu/research/list-astronomy.html.

For further information on charitable remainder unitrusts or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation, visit http://giving.tamu.edu.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Dr. Charles R. Munnerlyn '62

  • Munnerlyn Building

    Charles R. '62 and Judith G. Munnerlyn Astronomical Laboratory and Space Engineering Building, Texas A&M University

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