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JK Consulting: Spreading the "virtues of optics"

Jennifer Kruschwitz - Digital Rochester’s 2012 Technology Woman of the Year - is like a chef.

“Let’s just say I make desserts.”

She’s actually an optical engineer. But this is how she explains her job to people like me - and her mother.

“I could have a customer say, ‘I have this type of oven, I have these ingredients in my pantry and I would like to be able to make your soufflé,’ ” explains Kruschwitz.

So she whips up a test recipe and sends it off to that customer.

They give it a try - seeing if the “soufflé” has the right consistency, if it’s tasty, if it springs back just so.

Then the customer sends Kruschwitz some feedback. She makes the appropriate tweaks and then sends the customer the real recipe.

“So that they could make chocolate soufflé in their own ovens and they could call it by whatever name they needed to call it,” says Kruschwitz. “And that’s what I do in coatings.”

Optical coatings - for things like surgical lights, cell phone cameras and movie projectors.

Pushing optics forward

Kruschwitz is the president of JK Consulting. She’s basically a one-woman research lab who works remotely from her Brighton home.

The coatings she designs bend light to very specific specifications. 

For example, a coating for a surgical light she recently worked on: “None of the heat would reach the patient but all of the visible light - and the right color of visible light - would.”

Kruschwitz is literally the only female sole proprietor in the U.S. who does what she does.

She’s currently pursuing a Ph.D. at RIT to help change that.

“I think I have the energy to be able to inspire a lot of students,” Kruschwitz says. “They may have an engineering background or they may have gifts in terms of engineering - but they may not know about the virtues of optics.”

Ultimately Kruschwitz wants to be a full-time professor. She currently mentors high school students and teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of Rochester. (She’s also an adjunct at the University of Arizona, teaching remotely.)

Kruschwitz got her start in optics as an undergrad at the U of R. Before launching her own company, she worked for years at Bausch + Lomb.

Kruschwitz says her overarching goal is to grow the Rochester optics community that has sustained her career.

“There are so many aspects to optics that are inviting to the community,” she says. “It’s a great way for the Rochester community to be self-sufficient.”

The way Kruschwitz sees it, that means everything from low-level technicians to high-end engineers - the full scope of employment sustaining a dynamic, multifaceted industry.

It’s a recipe for success in a town where small optics firms continue to sprout up as its giants continue to slim down.

“There are so many things that we use in our everyday lives that only are possible because of optics,” Kruschwitz says. “I don’t see that going away any time soon.”

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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