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Rochester optics company kicks off conference with clam bake

Zack Seward
Right: mountain of clams. Left: trash cans of boiling water to cook them in.

Sure, 2010 is the 50th anniversary of the laser. Sure, the Laser Science XXVI and Frontiers in Optics 2010 conferences are joining forces at the Rochester convention center this week. Sure, Rochester is still a world leader in optics and photonics.

But can the Rochester optics community throw a party?


The 12th annual clam bake put on by Rochester’s Sydor Optics seems to suggest that it can.

More than 200 guests showed up to the invite-only event, about half of them from out of town.  But, far and away, the truly impressive number is the number of clams.

“1,600 dozen clams,” said Jim Sydor, president of Sydor Optics. “That’s a lot of clams.”

Save the trip to the calculator: that’s 19,200 clams. More than 90 per person.

They were cooked up at the Brook-Lea Country Club on Monday night for people from all corners of the American optics community. From designers to machine builders, PhDs to glass grinders.

Those who weren’t in town already are here for the Frontiers in Optics Conference, which the Optical Society of America puts on in Rochester every other year.

With about 100 optics companies in and around Rochester, the city is known as the nation’s capital of all things light.

Even with well-documented cutbacks at Kodak and Xerox, optics (the study of light) and photonics (the applied usage of light) still remain a big part of the local economy.

Michael Naselaris organized the clam bake. He’s also the general manager of Sydor Optics.

“We have such a concentration of optics in Rochester,” said Naselaris. “Some of the major materials suppliers in the U.S. are here in Rochester. So this is like mecca for the U.S. optics community.”

According to Naselaris and other attendees, the clam bake is one of the community’s premier events for networking and doing business. But one of the key sideshows is, of course, establishing clam-eating bragging rights.

“The record is 19 dozen and that gentleman is trying to break it this year by going to 25,” said Naselaris.

That gentleman is Christopher Cotton, president of ASE Optics and Chairman of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster.

His other title: “Record holder of eating the most clams at the clam bake last year.”

Cotton says the clam bake is great for networking, and the conference is great for letting Rochester show off its muscle in the world of optics R&D.

“The people that have maintained [the Optical Society] are the academic people, the ones that are really doing the forefront research,” said Cotton. “Those are the people that are really important to our industry.”

The conferences will be in town until Thursday.

Reached yesterday at the convention center, Cotton said he bested his own clam record Monday night. He successfully hit his goal of eating 25 dozen clams.

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WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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