Did you know that Rochester, New York is home to over 150 businesses and manufacturers that focus on photonics, optics, and imaging? This somewhat “small” city is, in fact, the world’s leading city in the optics industry!
Corporations such as Xerox Corporation, Eastman Kodak Company, Optimax Systems, and our own company, Apollo Optical Systems, call Rochester home. It’s not happenstance that Rochester NY holds a leadership role, however. This convergence of industry magnates was created by design nearly one hundred years ago.
With the ever-changing economic landscape they faced, which continues like a rollercoaster today, the best strategy to remain ahead of the curve is to come together and collaborate with industry partners. This cluster of researchers, supply chain fulfillment centers, and manufacturers have the unique opportunity to share information, technology, and materials.
But how did such a concept come to be?
How It Started – Rochester, NY – The Hub of the Optics Industry
Following World War I, the founders of Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb realized that it was crucial to a thriving industry not to rely on overseas suppliers for essential components. Germany was the primary supplier of optics in the United States until that point in history.
This led to the founding of one of the largest operations responsible for contributing concepts and skilled executors into this unique cluster, the first of its kind in the world, The Institute of Optics. The Institute is now a multimillion-dollar research facility that’s part of The University of Rochester. Still, it started with private funding from Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb just before the great depression.
This same concern for the international supply of articles that were in national demand resurfaced in the 1990s as the more labor-intensive work was once again shipped overseas. This led to The University of Rochester creating the Center for Optics Management, an amalgamation of the military, industrial, and scientific partners who came up with a solution.
This now obsolete partnership was responsible for creating new automated technology that offered a domestic source for critical engineering optical and photonics technology. This effectively helped bring home the supply for the rapid technological demand.
In 2003, there was another uptick in attention for The Institute of Optics when a nano-optics group, spearheaded by Professor Lukas Novotny of the University of Rochester, made the Guinness Book of World Records. This notoriety was earned for the development of a near-field Raman scattering that can resolve a microscopic image.
In layman’s terms, this technique created the highest resolution image that has ever been before or since that shows details in an image smaller than 20 billionths of a meter or 2nm across. This record still stands today. 
The fields of optics and photonics are inherently related, though their function is different. Optics is what generates light or detects it and then directs that light source where it needs to go.
The application of photonics is how electrical circuits everywhere use light to convert energy, capture images, and transmit and process data.
Lasers and sensors use light to send and receive signals, discover information, and it’s how one device communicates with another. Innovation in this field makes computer circuits and chips operate quicker while also using less energy.
Increased battery life and faster equipment are how you save more money in manufacturing and operations. Without the focused cluster of supply for these critical technologies, industry and military applications on the United State’s behalf would suffer.
In 2014, the Department of Defense’s then Acting Director of Manufacturing, Andre Gudger, phrased it this way:
“Our U.S. industrial base serves at least two major national security objectives. It is the engine that drives our economy, and it equips our soldiers, sailors, and airmen, so it’s critically important that we maintain our technological advantage within the U.S. industrial base and these institutes help us maintain that competitiveness in important technology areas, such as integrated photonics.”
These are just some of the stories of how Rochester has played an integral role in American industry over the past twenty or even one hundred years.
The Present and Future of the Optics Industry
When considering the current state and future of engineering optical, quantum optics, photonics, and freeform optics, it’s clear they have a myriad of applications for modern and innovative use. This cluster of industry figureheads and scientists ensures these applications and advances lead to significant improvements so that everything in our world works better.
Computers can run health and safety diagnostics more efficiently and with less energy use. Visual technology used in flight equipment will be more precise, averting potential disasters and saving lives.
Communication devices can send and receive crucial information more smoothly, avoiding information gaps and saving valuable or even critical time. Vehicles can operate with increased safety and efficiency protocols saving consumer lives and resources.
Apollo Optical Systems is a shining example of just one of the cutting-edge companies that are part of Rochester’s contributions to the optic and photonics industry. Initially an offshoot of The Institute of Optics itself, AOS has been providing innovative and completely custom optical solutions since the late 1980s. We’re also proud members of the NY Photonics Trade Group.
With applications such as AR/VR, heads-up displays, street lights, LIDAR, and autonomous vehicles, Apollo Optical Systems has been at the forefront of some of the most exciting developments to come out of Rochester.
Growing beyond the scope of research and development, the optics industry and community will also be focusing on training and innovation for current and new partners to take advantage of the infrastructure that’s developed in Rochester.