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Long IslandObituaries

Robert Saxe, founder of LI ‘smart glass’ tech firm, dead at 81

Robert Saxe founded Woodbury-based Research Frontiers Inc., developer

Robert Saxe founded Woodbury-based Research Frontiers Inc., developer of SPD-smart light control technology used in automobiles, aircraft, yachts, homes and offices, and museums. He was 81. Credit: Jonathan Young

Persistence defined Robert Saxe’s life.

For more than 50 years, the entrepreneur and founder of Woodbury-based Frontier Research Inc. doggedly pursued “smart glass,” a technology he believed in, right up until his death.

Saxe, 81, died of natural causes June 29 after a brief stay in Mount Sinai Hospital.

He was born on May 30, 1935, to Leonard and Helen Saxe in Manhattan, where he grew up with his brother Stephen and lived until his death.

“He was always very interested in physics; all the things I wasn’t involved in,” said Stephen Saxe, 86, of White Plains. “It was sort of a sibling rivalry.”

Robert Saxe received a physics degree from Harvard in 1956 and later returned to Harvard Business School in 1960. He dabbled in finance and brokerage before and after working for Corning Glass Works in 1960 and 1961, but never quite lost his affinity for science.

While working at a brokerage firm in New York, Saxe came across a patent for self-dimming glass panels. The science intrigued him so much, he quit his job, purchased the old patent and took to research on the technology, his brother said.

The discovery touched off a more than 50-year career with Research Frontiers, which Saxe founded in 1965. He stepped down as president in 2002 and chief executive in 2008, and served as chief technology officer until his death.

Saxe was very interested in physics and in light and was the lead inventor on many of Research Frontier’s patents, said Joseph Harary, president and CEO of the company. At the tech firm, Saxe spent the better part of 35 years perfecting and improving smart glass, a lighter, sustainable glass that allows users to selectively change its opacity when an electric current runs through it. Despite detractors, he continued to invest time and money into the technology.

“He had unquenchable optimism,” Stephen Saxe said.

In 2001, the first product using smart glass, a jet with the specially tinted windows, went on the market. Today, Mercedes-Benz uses the product for some of its sunroofs, “a game-changer” for the company, Stephen Saxe said. Smart glass adorned the ceiling at the 2015 World’s Fair USA Pavilion and protects artifacts at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

Outside his role as a scientist, Robert Saxe was a friend and a mentor.

“He was very kind and generous person,” Harary said. “He was always helping people. If someone had an idea or a problem, he’d try to help them.”

Robert Saxe and his wife Marie, who died in 2008, kept a “pretty important collection” of American glass, Harary said. The Saxes were especially keen on cobalt blue glass bottles and amassed one of the largest collections in North America.

Saxe also collected badges, Harary said, and kept some of the rarities in his office. Saxe enjoyed watching tennis and frequented the Opens, but at the end of the day, he was a physicist.

He also developed a comprehensive idea about the shape and dimension of the proton,” Stephen Saxe said. “He was convinced he had something really good there. He would’ve tried to get it to someone to look at it ... to this day.”

A memorial service will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan.

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