City of Lights: Rochester and the History of Optics

City of Lights: Rochester and the History of Optics

September 12, 2016

City of Lights: Rochester and the History of Optics is a new exhibit that explores the City of Rochester and the University of Rochester's deep ties to the world of optics technology.

Rochester became a central hub for optical research and production starting in the late 1880s. The city's spirit of innovation led to the establishment of the Rochester Association for Advancement of Applied Optics in November 1915. Members of the Rochester Association later became instrumental in the founding of the Optical Society of America in February 1916 and the establishment of the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester in 1929.

Held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Optical Society of America, the exhibit illustrates the technology that allows us to look into the depths of far galaxies, take photos on our smartphones, and affects almost every aspect of our daily lives.

"The Optics exhibit is a refreshing and exciting look at a subject that is both global, and uniquely Rochester," says Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Assistant Dean, and the Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation. "The exhibit has great educational value both in understanding the history of optics, but also in drawing attention to a relatively unknown aspect of the history of Rochester."

City of Lights serves as a great opportunity to share parts of River Campus Libraries' collection that might not be as well-known to researchers. Often recognized for its rare and unique materials that relate to the rich history of nineteenth-century Western New York, the collection has many other strengths that might surprise even those who regularly use the libraries.

As Lori Birrell, Special Collections Librarian for Historical Manuscripts notes, "exhibitions provide a wonderful way of exploring previously unfamiliar facets of our collections, and require us to consider how to share that information with new audiences." City of Lights in particular should be appealing to new audiences since it shows the interesting relationships between the history of the University, the development of Rochester's optical industry, and the establishment of a national organization like the Optical Society of America. As such, the exhibit makes our special collections very much relevant to the world outside of the library.

Visitors are welcome to view the exhibit during the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation's (RBSCP) opening hours. A public event will be held on November 17 at 5:30 pm in RBSCP. The event will showcase the exhibit and will feature demonstrations relating to the science of optics by key members of the University's faculty. The event is free and open to the public.

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