Fascinated with space, Jay A. Stein pursued physics at Brown and space studies in MIT’s physics department, where he delved into x-ray astronomy. But when it came time to find a job, he applied his expertise to more earthly endeavors, at American Science and Engineering (AS&E). Frequent hijackings between the United States and Cuba in the late 1960s had led to heightened airport security, and Stein’s task was to build one of the country’s first baggage inspection scanners. He received a patent for his flying-spot scanner, the first of dozens that he would hold on devices involving x-ray technology.
The majority of his inventions are breakthrough medical devices. “I was always interested in the medical field on the side of doing some good,” Stein says. First he focused on improving the CT scanner: he led the charge to build the fourth generation of the device, which had less potential for errors than earlier versions and is still in use today.
Stein then teamed up with an AS&E colleague to form three companies. The first two, later sold, focused on medical x-ray angiography and a system to detect explosives in baggage. The third, Hologic, where he is chairman emeritus and chief technical officer, created the first x-ray bone densitometer (which measures bone density and tracks bone loss) and the first digital mammography machine. In 2007, Hologic acquired Cytyc, a company that provides gynecological diagnostic screening and therapeutics. That move made Hologic one of the country’s largest companies focusing on women’s health. Within a couple of years, Hologic expects FDA approval of its latest invention, a 3-D mammography machine already used in Europe and Canada. The device will detect more cancers and provide a clearer image, especially in dense tissue, so that fewer women will need to be called back for another scan.
Stein, who’s a generous donor to the Institute, credits MIT with helping him analyze customer requests in a way that doesn’t just solve immediate concerns but improves entire systems. “MIT taught me to think of the fundamentals of a problem and not just the details,” he says.
He lives in Boston with his wife, Gretchen, and has three children, two stepchildren, and six grandkids. “I wanted all my children to go to MIT,” he says. His son Peter did, earning an MBA from Sloan in 1998. Now Stein is looking to the next generation: “I’m going to get my grandchildren to go to MIT.”