Eastman left mark as entrepreneur, inventor and optics industry leader

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A serial entrepreneur, inventor, and a leading light and promoter of the optics industry in Rochester and beyond, Jay Eastman founded three Rochester-area high-tech companies.

Named as an inventor or co-inventor on 48 U.S. patents, Eastman died in April after a brief illness. He was 74. His death was announced by his family April 20.

In a notice to members, Optica, a Washington, D.C.-based optics trade association, pronounced itself “deeply saddened” by Eastman’s passing. Crediting him for work as an Optica director and member of the organization’s finance council and audit committee, the trade association called Eastman “a dear friend” to its members, staff and volunteers.

Jay Eastman

Photonics New York, a Rochester-based nonprofit supporting and promoting this state’s optics industry, called Eastman “the best of all possible partners,” noting his decade-long role in creating and organizing the Rochester-based American Center of Optics Manufacturing, a nonprofit whose efforts include the U.S. Department of Defense-funded Defense Precision Optics Workforce Development and Technology Ecosystem Project.

Were it not for Eastman’s efforts including lobbying in Washington over the past decade, “AmeriCOM would not exist today,” the Photonics tribute states.

Also noting Eastman’s passing were the Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers and the University of Rochester Laboratory of Laser Energetics. The lab’s founding director, Moshe Lubin, had championed the local photonics industry with the state, which ultimately invested significant sums in Rochester-area photonics projects.

Taking over the Laser Lab in the wake of Lubin’s departure, Eastman led it through a “difficult transition,” lab officials noted in a tribute. Among the UR research facility’s projects is investigation of nuclear fusion, a process that many believe could meet much of the planet’s energy demands with minimal environmental effects.

Memorializing Eastman in a Miller Funeral Home tribute, a onetime student of Eastman’s, Georg Nardoff, wrote that when he signed up for a thin-films class from Eastman as a UR undergraduate in the 1980s, he was “in awe” of Eastman as a driving force behind the UR Laser Lab. But when on the first day of class, Eastman told the class to address him as Jay, “I was dumbstruck. That was a completely new experience for me … it really humanized him. He was so kind and approachable. I clung to every word he spoke.”   

Eastman founded and ran Optel Systems Inc. from 1981 to 1986, when the firm was acquired by PSC Inc. He spent the next 11 years with PSC, where he developed its core bar-code technology and served as executive vice president and then senior vice president of strategic planning. In 1996, Eastman and PSC chairman and CEO Michael Hone received the Herbert W. VandenBrul Entrepreneurial Award from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Eastman also founded and ran the medical optical-device company Lucid Inc. Now known as Caliber I.D., the company makes an imaging device capable of giving physicians a cellular-level view of tissue. It is currently based in Massachusetts but maintains a manufacturing facility in Rochester.

Most recently, Eastman headed Optel Inc., a Rochester product design firm he co-founded with his son, Zachary.

A 1970 graduate of the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics and a 1974 graduate of UR’s  Ph.D. optics program, Eastman spent a year in California managing the engineering division of Spectra Physics in Mountain View, Calif., before returning to Rochester to work at UR’s Laser Lab as head of the research facility’s engineering division.

A Seneca Falls native, Eastman served as board member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls.

Eastman was predeceased his parents, Wesley and Evelyn (Morgan) Eastman. In addition to his son Zachary (Suzanna), he is survived by his wife of 51 years, Linda Eastman; a daughter, Sarah (Michael) Newman; and six grandchildren.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

One thought on “Eastman left mark as entrepreneur, inventor and optics industry leader

  1. Jay was a gifted, smart kind compassionate gentleman that I have had the opportunity to work with on NY Photonics Cluster projects.
    I will miss him always asking how I was and what have I been doing.
    Family meant the world to Jay, and he always spoke with pride and affection when talking about them.

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