Our Founder Zak Niazi was an optics student at the University of Rochester and was fortunate to have Dr. Wayne Knox as his Optics 101 Professor. Dr. Wayne Knox has over 50 patents in the United States and 150 globally in the areas of technology, telecommunications and biomedical optics and has had a significant role in helping Rochester, New York become known worldwide for being the epicenter of high-end optics. Today, a few of his students have chosen to work with Circle Optics for their senior-design project. At the University of Rochester, Optical Engineering majors are required to take a full year Senior Design Class.
As someone who helped build Rochester, New York’s brand as an Optics Mecca, here in his own words is a sliver of a sliver of his back story:
I think some people would say, I am lucky to have survived my childhood because of the experiments I was always doing. My dad, Emeritus Professor now, was a professor of physics and my mom was a musician who studied voice at the Eastman School of Music. Through the osmosis of exposure I have a lot of attributes of both of them. I started at Rochester Institute of Technology in electrical engineering but learned of a co-op program at University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. I heard the words “laser” and “job” in the same sentence and that paved my future. In Rochester in sciences you cannot go wrong with either school and I ended up getting my Ph. D at University of Rochester. I brought together biomedical optics, physics and electronics. Having a thirst for research I ended up at Bell Laboratories starting in 1984 – which was the best place for research at the time. I was there for seventeen years and became a distinguished member of the technical staff. At the peak of that era I was running a department with 22 Bell Labs scientists in the Advanced Photonics Research Lab, Holmdel, NJ inventing things and writing a whole lot of patents.
I came back to Rochester in 2001 to become the Director of The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. I hired half of the faculty members that are there today. When friends and family hear I am in Optics, I often get asked “can you fix my glasses?.” I can indeed do that and a whole lot more, including helping to found two optics startup companies: Parverio and Clerio Vision. I am the Chief Science Officer of Clerio Vision. Clerio Vision is perfecting the sense of sight which is developing revolutionary ophthalmic products for the next generation of contact lenses and cataract surgery using femtosecond lasers. The origin story of Clerio is quite interesting. I originally told the VP of Research at Bausch and Lomb (B & L) that we had a way to make LASIK surgery less invasive through femtosecond lasers. After hearing the pitch the VP of Research bought it and funded the technology development for ten years. After B & L was acquired by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the acquiring company was not interested in the technology and gave the IP for free back to the University of Rochester. This allowed me to leverage the technology and bring it to a place where it could serve and provide a new way to correct vision for many as well as establish the next frontier of vision technology.
Putting the research together, licensing the intellectual property from the University of Rochester, and building a company with over one hundred employees, it is fulfilling to see this technology being used to solve real world problems. My job as a professor is to fuel my students with curiosity and the hunger to know how science works. My job as an entrepreneur is to make science work in the real world. Lots of people have ideas; the magic is proving the ideas work. As you know, in any kind of company, nothing is ever fast enough. Nothing is ever good enough. Nothing is ever cheap enough. Circle Optics is working with my senior design students to make an awesome new kind of camera system faster, better, cheaper.
When the Circle Optics team came and presented a potential research project for a few students, half the class wanted to work on the project. That is part of the excitement of what the technology really is, and we are proud to have our students working on such an important and exciting real-world project.