Our Industry

The 20th Century was the century of the electron.
The 21st Century is the century of the photon.

Bob Breault, Photonics Entrepreneur

Today’s Regional Numbers

New York State continues to be the epi-center of the optics, photonics and imaging industries in North America.  Ranking number two in the nation in academic research and development expenditures, this research is split almost evenly between upstate and downstate colleges and universities, giving optics firms throughout the state access to potential partnerships and the latest industry developments.

  • According to SPIE, the top 56 OPI companies from New York State with a total of 33,028 employees account for over $8b in sales*
  • New York State is recognized as #1 in the nation for commercializing intellectual property in the OPI industry
  • New York is ranked 3rd in the country for research and development employment, with an affordable yet very high standard of living

Rochester is the global leader in optics, photonics and imaging.  The Finger Lakes Region around Rochester is home to more than 120 progressive businesses in the OPI sector. The birthplace of Eastman Kodak Company, Xerox Corporation and Bausch & Lomb is always evolving.  Rochester and the Finger Lakes Region is home to a surprising number of diverse small and medium-sized businesses that represent the full supply chain in optics, photonics and imaging.


What is Optics, Photonics and Imaging?

Optics is all about light: how it’s generated, propagated, and detected. It is a multidisciplinary endeavor with its roots in physics, electrical engineering, chemistry, and materials science.

Optical applications can be found in every aspect of our lives, from contact lenses to fiber-optics communication. The study of optics has led scientist to produce ground breaking inventions like the laser and the holograph.

Photonics is the science of harnessing light, and imaging encompasses a vast array of technologies including displays and light sensors, the digital “cameras” in our phones, in our cars, in satellites, in endoscopes (literally: looking inside), in night vision systems and myriad other applications. Together the rapid acceleration of these technologies is transforming our world with everything from 3D entertainment to self-driving vehicles.

One in fourteen households in the Finger Lakes Regions is supported by optics, photonics and imaging.

Industry Timeline

  • 1826 – First (surviving) photograph taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in Burgundy, France
  • 1828 – Anyos Jedlik, a Hungarian, invented an early type of electric motor powering a small model car
  • 1859 – Rechargeable batteries and the first practical electric car are produced
  • 1879 – Thomas Edison invents the first electric light
  • 1957 – First time the acronym “laser” is used by Gordon Gould
  • 1957 – Basil Hirschowitz and Larry Curtiss invent the first fiber optic endoscope
  • 1960-61 – First laser constructed and available commercially
  • 1961 – First optical fiber and medical use lasers developed and used commercially
  • 1964 - Xerox Corporation introduced (and patented) what many consider to be the first commercialized version of the modern fax
  • 1968 – The hologram is invented by Stephen Benton while working at Polaroid Corp.
  • 1969 – RCA introduced SelectVision, a color video cartridge player
  • 1974 – First bar code read by a scanner on a pack of chewing gum
  • 1977 – Birth of optical communication and the first underground fiber optic transmission system linking Illinois Bell and its customers
  • 1982 – First audio CD is developed
  • 1984 – CAD/CAM technology gains momentum and results in a demand for high resolution color graphic displays
  • 2006 – OLED (Optical LED) is pioneered at Princeton University
  • 2007 – Steve Jobs announces the iPhone
  • 2011 – Osama bin Laden is captured; enabled by satellites and the use of infrared technology
  • 2013 – Curiosity Rover enabled by lasers lands on Mars

Regional History Timeline

  • 1853 – Bausch & Lomb founded
  • 1880 – Eastman Kodak founded
  • 1916 – Optical Society of America (OSA) founded
  • 1929 – Institute of Optics founded
  • 1946 – XEROX founded
  • 1970 – Laboratory for Laser Energetics established
  • 1989 – Center for Optics Manufacturing (COM) established
  • 1993 – Center for Electronic Imaging Systems (CEIS) establsihed
  • 1998 – NY Photonics establsihed
  • 2013 – Center for Freeform Optics (CeFO) established
  • 2015 – AIM Photonics announced
  • 2015 – Upstate Revitalization Initiative awarded

We are striking it big in the electric light, better than my vivid imagination first conceived. Where this thing is going to stop Lord only knows.

Thomas Edison, 1879

The Optics Story

The age and size of the cosmos are written in light. The nature of beauty; the substance of the stars; the laws of space and time: they were there all along, but we never saw them – until we devised a more powerful way of seeing. The story of this awakening has many beginnings, and no ending. Its heroes come from many times and places:

The ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi, the first to write about the phenomenon called the camera obscura, the prototype of the cameras we still use today; Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan, a wizard who amazed the caliphs of 11th century Iraq, often referred to as the father of optics; a poor German orphan enslaved to a harsh master, Joseph Fraunhofer

…each one brought us a little closer to unlocking the secrets hidden in light.

Most of their names are forever lost to us. But somewhere, long ago someone glanced up to see light perform one of its magic tricks. Who knows? Maybe that quirk of light inspired the very first artists.

– Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos

OPI Around New York State:


Bausch & Lomb, Corning, Kodak and Xerox, make this region a research and manufacturing hub, rich with knowledge, experience and innovation in optics manufacturing, metrology and imaging. It is supported by the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the Infotonics Technology Center.

NYC / Long Island

Coherent (originally Quantronix Corporation) offers customers worldwide hundreds of laser systems. In addition, Coherent is working with City University of New York to create its high-energy titanium sapphire amplifier systems—creating a pump laser that provides high-output energy and excellent beam quality. The area is invigorated by educational and research programs at Stony Brook and Brookhaven—leading firms such as Amplification Technologies, Electro Optical Products Corporation, Spectrum Thin Films, Tecoptics, and Veeco have located there.


University of Buffalo’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics develops new materials and technologies with a special emphasis on Opto-Biotechnology and Optical Communications. The region is home to a diverse base of optics manufacturers, distributors and instrumentation companies.

Albany / Hudson Valley

The Center for Advanced Technology in Nanomaterials and Nanotechnologies at the University of Albany has over 150 partners worldwide and houses the only pilot prototyping facilities in the academic world for both 8” and 12” wafers. The center is also focused on next generation nanolithography. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Automation Technologies and Systems is developing real-time control of optics for applications in imaging and laser beam forming.

Central NY

Syracuse, Ithaca and Rome are home to photonic firms serving the aerospace, healthcare and optics industries—including companies such as Lockheed Martin, Welch Allyn and EMF Corporation. The area also boasts the Cornell Center for Materials Research—focused on advanced materials structured at the nanoscale.