Chemistry and Biochemistry

Remembering James Thorne

Posted: Aug 15, 2011

Former chemistry professor, James Thorne, passed away on July 21, 2011 at the age of 73.

Jim joined BYU’s faculty in 1966. As a physical chemist, his research interests ranged from photo dynamic therapy used in cancer treatment to X-ray nanotechnology. Jim was usually involved in several projects and always engaged students in his research.

Former BYU chemistry professor, Fran Nordmeyer, explained that Jim was not only an educator, but a friend to students and staff alike.

“His faculty colleagues always found him to be friendly, kind, softly spoken and very generous. Many students have greatly benefitted from his efforts,” said Nordmeyer.

In addition to teaching classes, he held numerous scientific patents and co-founded the company Moxtek with Larry Knight, an emeritus physics professor. Knight described the first time he met Jim.

“The first day I came to BYU, Jim came to my office and said he thought we had similar interests. And that was the beginning of a collaboration that lasted for about 40 years” said Knight.

Thorne and Knight shared similar interests including lasers and applications, and plasma physics. They helped develop X-ray optics used in the laser fusion program at both Los Alamos National Laboratory and Livermore National Laboratory. It was these mutual fascinations that gave them the idea to start their own company.

Moxtek was founded in 1986 with technology Thorne and Knight developed at BYU. The genesis product of Moxtek was multilayer X-ray optics and thin X-ray windows used for elemental analysis.

Today, Moxtek is a leader in the design, development and manufacturing of X-ray optics, spectrometers, small X-ray tubes and wire grid polarizers used in projectors and high-definition televisions.

Knight described Jim as being very good at anything he chose to do.

“He was one of the brightest people I know. He was very good at doing analysis, taking measurements and figuring out clever ways to solve problems,” said Knight.

Although his adult life was compromised by ill health, Jim was a hard worker and displayed a positive attitude.

“Jim was a very remarkable man,” said Knight. “I think anybody who knew him would say that he was quite a guy.”

By Stacie Carnley, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Photo courtesy of The Daily Herald