His influence in optical spanned nearly fifty years.

John Young

What can you say about a person who represented our industry since 1969 in standards development with both ANSI and ISO, held patents for optical designs and testing protocols, lectured for years to advance our collective knowledge, authored over 100 published articles, headed R&D and quality control for both AO and Essilor, founded COLTS Laboratories (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year) and has more awards than we have room to list.

Arguably John Young’s most famous accomplishment for the lab industry was the development of the aptly named “Young/AO (Scratch Resistance-SR) Tumble Test.” A little background: When scratch-resistant (SR) plastic lenses first burst on our market, we all galloped to get on the bandwagon as this was the answer to the one major complaint about CR-39 lenses. They scratch.

Armorlite was the first company to release a scratch-resistant lens, with other companies soon following…many with exaggerated claims about their performance such as, “tests show that [our lens]is more scratch-resistant than glass.”

One of the problems was that there was no standardized test for SR, and players were, I’ll use this term carefully, “choosing” the test that showed their product in the best light.

American Optical’s entry was Permalite. I’ll let Dick Whitney (currently manager, global standards, Carl Zeiss Vision) describe: “I remember working with John as he submitted product to me for evaluation—cyclic humidity testing and John’s industry famous ‘Young Tumble Test’ for abrasion assessment. In the case of the latter, I was involved in conducting abrasion testing at the time of the development of AO’s Permalite coating in 1980, and one of the significant promotional aspects of this coating was a demonstration of how lenses compared after one year of actual wear. The Permalite test lens showed a demonstrable improvement from uncoated CR-39 when worn in the same frame, opposite eyes.

“John developed the tumble test that tried to match these patterns and used a variety of abrasive materials (sand, corn, abrasive pads, shoemakers’ wooden nails, etc.) to match this as-worn random scratch pattern. When sample lenses were put into the tumble barrel and run for 20 minutes, his test showed remarkable similarities to the abrasion patterns seen on the lenses worn in the user study. Since that time, this test has been widely utilized in the industry, and while we have subsequently learned that no one single test will always equate to real life wear, it has an important place in the history of coating development for improved abrasion resistance product.”

Essilor had the “n-10 blows” test and required a trained operator. At Ultra Optics, we used 000 wet/dry sandpaper and a “trained” finger. As Dick alluded, no one test equates to real life, but the Young Tumble Test was the first attempt to quantify and replicate SR testing. All were important parts of the evolution of the fine products we have today.

One negative to SR coatings on plastic lenses was that the coatings often decreased impact resistance. We labs had been riding on the coattails of the manufacturers’ impact testing, but in 1987 the FDA issued a ruling that the last “manufacturer” was responsible for testing. This included surfacing, edging or applying an SR or AR coating.

This meant that labs had to start impact testing, but plastic lenses are often left unusable when impact tested in the same way as glass. John recognized this and developed testing methods to provide a manufacturer-level testing resource for individual labs based upon a statistically valid protocol acceptable to the FDA to meet this standard and available from his laboratory. He was also granted a patent for a “Method for Testing Ophthalmic Lenses” in 2005. To me, that was one of his greatest contributions to our industry.

On July 2, 2017, the optical industry lost a true champion–one with unrivaled expertise, courage, tenacity, creativity and humor. He will be missed.

John Young Gets Fired Up . . .  Then Fired

John Young was also a genuinely nice person but very protective of his science. Ron McGhay, then president of Silor, relates this instance: “While many in the optical industry knew John, few may have known of his tenacity, creativity and humor. John was director of quality in the early ‘90s and reported to Guy Vareilles, the founder of Silor Optical (Silor and Essel Optical merged in 1972 to create Essilor).

“John was involved in the evaluation and development of many of today’s well-known optical products, including Transitions lenses first introduced in the early 1990s. As with many new products, early stage Transitions had a number of shortcomings, including a color change to a purplish shade, temperature sensitivity (slow and reduced darkening as temperatures increased) and failure to darken behind a windshield when worn in a car. It was John’s job to document the characteristics of the lens to establish a baseline for future improvements as new generations of the product were developed. Guy was strongly resistant to John’s findings that Transitions would not darken when worn in a car. 

“Guy’s office was on the second floor of Silor’s headquarters building overlooking a side parking lot. When Guy left town on a business trip, John went to a local salvage yard, purchased a junked car with an intact windshield and had it towed to a space in the parking lot directly under Guy’s office window. John next placed multiple pairs of the first generation Transitions lenses on the dashboard of the car.

“When Guy returned from his business trip, John went to his office and asked him to look at the car below and pointed out that the lenses on the dashboard were Transitions and to notice they were clear.

“Guy did not see the humor in John’s demonstration and in a fit of rage told John to get out of his office and out of the building, that he was fired! A short time later Guy contacted John, apologized, indicated he had proven his point and could have his job back.”


Jim Grootegoed is professional editor of Optical Lab Products.



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