James Zavislan, an associate professor at the Institute of Optics, is currently working on a microscope that is able to image unprepared tissue with cellular resolution in order to uniquely identify immune cells. “I enjoy the scale of optics,” Zavislan said. “Optics plays a role in all scales of the universe – from galaxies to atoms. Optical phenomena are everywhere.” To him, optics is a non-limiting field.

Zavislan is also working on technology validation research for venture capitalists at the Center for Institute Ventures.

Zavislan grew up in Littleton, Colorado. A Bausch and Lomb medalist in high school, he was originally interested in astronomy and he built his own telescopes because they were too expensive for him to buy. He then realized that his fascination lay more in building the telescopes than in using them.

His interest in optics was furthered when a friend told him about UR’s Institute of Optics. Though he had never been east of the Mississippi River, he came to Rochester and his first visit was to the institute.Zavislan came to UR as a freshman in 1978 and entered into the 3-2 program. After completing his bachelor’s degree in 1981, Zavislan moved on to the graduate program, transitioning from the masters program to a doctoral one.

After his graduation from the doctoral program, Zavislan worked on optical data storage and lithography at the IBM Almaden Research Center in California for five years. Ten years ago, he returned to Rochester where he co-founded Lucid, Inc. with Jay Eastman, his doctoral advisor, mentor and one of his greatest influences from the Institute of Optics. He remains the Senior Vice President of Technology & CTO at Lucid.

Zavislan became an adjunct professor at the Institute of Optics three years ago and moved on to become a full-time professor in May of last year. He is also associate professor of dermatology and the director of the Center for Institute Ventures.

As for the future of optics, Zavislan believes the next steps in the field involve the interaction of light in nano- and microstructures and applications of electronic imaging such as medical optics.

“Optics evolves as our ability to fabricate new materials changes and as industries require new methods of measurement.”

Zavislan offered a piece of advice to students. “Don’t spend too much time in front of the computer,” he said. “Too many people view the world through a computer screen.”

Martins can be reached at jmartins@campustimes.org.

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