James Butler

James J. Butler, MS, PhD

UC Box 
Price Hall 105 (Forest Grove)


PhD at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., in 2000

Master of Science at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., in 1996

Bachelor of Science at Eastern Oregon University, La Grande, Ore., in 1994


I came to Pacific University in 2004 after spending five years as a faculty member in the Physics Department at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, MD. In fact, I had been granted tenure at USNA before moving to Pacific.

So, why did I choose Pacific?

My dedication to innovative teaching

The Physics Department at Pacific is unique in that the every faculty member is committed to implementing research-based teaching techniques. This shared vision produces a creative, vibrant community in which to pursue a career as an educator. During my time at Pacific, I have played an active role in the development and implementation of innovative teaching methods and tools.  I have received grants to incorporate technology-based teaching methods in my classes.  Further, I have published the results of my work on pedagogical development in peer-reviewed journals such as Interface and have presented this work at American Association of Physics Teachers meetings and Pacific Northwest Assocation for College Physics meetings.

My dedication to engaging students in research

I received my PhD in physics for my experimental study of optical switches (devices used to control the direction that light propagates). Since then, I have done extensive research in the area of optical limiting in fiber optic systems. This research has applications in places where there is a potential for damage due to high intensity lasers such as in the military and in the telecommunications industry. I have done this work in collaboration with scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington DC, USNA, and the Chemistry Department at Pacific. I have been Principle Investigator on over $700,000 in grants from agencies such as NRL, the National Science Foundation, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the Pacific Research Institute for Science & Mathematics to support this research. 

Students at Pacific have joined me in this effort through experimental research in a state-of-the-art optics lab at Pacific. They have had the results of their research published in peer-reviewed journals such as Optics Letters and Optics Express.  Further, their results have been presented at regional and national conferences such as the Murdock College Science Research Conference and the Conference on Lasers and Electro-optics.  Several of these students have gone on to pursue advanced degrees at institutions such as University of Cambridge, MIT, University of Oregon, Oregon State University, University of Arizona, Stanford University, and University of Texas at Austin.

The Physics Department at Pacific is also committed to providing research opportunities for students. All physics majors at Pacific are required to do either a senior capstone research project or an internship.  Often times, these projects are the culmination of two or more years of research that the student has done with their faculty advisor. These research experiences are extremely valuable, no matter what career path the student ultimately chooses after graduation since it gives them "real world" experience where there is not a cookbook recipe for how to go about solving problems and the answers are not known ahead of time.

The opportunity to teach at a liberal arts college and a college of optometry

I was attracted to Pacific's mission and vision to provide undergraduates with a broad education that prepares them for the complexities of life in an inherently interdisciplinary world. This matches my personal goals to continue to expand my own knowledge of philosophy, history, and literature. In my experience, it is the blending of all of these areas (along with physics) that lead me to a rich and fulfilling life.

I enjoy the opportunity to teach in the College of Optometry at Pacific. As discussed above, many of my research interests are in the realm of optics and I have found it extremely rewarding to teach optics concepts in the context of optometric applications. Furthermore, I enjoy helping build bridges between the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Optometry in order to help undergraduates interested in pursuing optometry as a profession. 

My dedication to my family

I grew up in Portland, Oregon and many of my family members still live in the area. I attended Benson Polytechnic High School and Eastern Oregon University before moving to Pennsylvania to pursue my PhD at Lehigh University. Although I enjoyed my time on the east coast, I always hoped to return to the Pacific Northwest. Pacific University is ideally located for me to pursue my interests outside of work. I enjoy spending time with my family and a wide spectrum of activities including reading, camping, watching TV/movies, and riding/restoring motorcycles.