Forensic science offers opportunity for photonics

I am about to graduate with a physics degree and am interested in entering graduate study in the investigative side of forensic science.

May 1st, 2006

I am about to graduate with a physics degree and am interested in entering graduate study in the investigative side of forensic science. What are my options, especially if I want to remain where I live?

This could be a new area of job opportunity for people in photonics, given all the interest in homeland security, and many photonics innovations could be applied to these applications.

You may want to take advantage of the power of the Internet to get specific answers to your question. I googled “university degrees, forensic science” and immediately found the American Association of Forensic Scientists ( which provides a long list of colleges that offer degrees in forensic science and related fields.

If none of these colleges are in your area, my recommendation would be to keep your career options open by getting into disciplines that provide you flexibility if your interests change. Specifically, you can get into physics, biology, electrical engineering, information technology, or even management of technology and projects.

I imagine a lot of forensic work involves physics, such as florescence and spectroscopy to make invisible evidence visible, biology in the gathering and analysis of DNA evidence, electrical engineering in the development of instrumentation, and optics and information technology in image enhancement and data correlation.

I would also encourage you to talk to law and enforcement agencies in big cities. I am sure a visit to a well-equipped and well-staffed crime lab and talking to experts in the field can yield tons of information.

Our product is in beta testing, and we would like to raise the next round of financing. From your VC experience, should we hire the CEO now or after we get funded?

I can argue both ways. The decision could be based on whether your priority is to hire a top-notch CEO or to raise money. Raising money and hiring a CEO both take time, and my recommendation is to get both going at the same time. However, let’s look at the pros and cons.

Hiring the CEO after funding is likely to get you stronger candidates. It also allows incoming investors to participate in the recruiting process or even to put their entrepreneur-in-residence up for the job. (An EIR is an executive working at a VC firm to help do due diligence as a way to find the next gig). After funding is obtained, the new CEO is more likely to succeed in running the business without having to put out fires on too many fronts.

The main drawback to not having a CEO before funding is that the company will be operating without a real leader for many more months. Having a savvy CEO in place with a good reputation in the industry could help you raise money by providing a sense of validation that someone knowledgeable has done the homework and signed on. Whatever you do, remember rushing into hiring an unqualified CEO could be a fatal mistake.

I had several enthusiastic meetings with a VC, but now I cannot get an e-mail response or even a phone call returned. What’s wrong and what can I do to get him to respond?

It is likely that his failure to respond is not related to anything you have done and there is probably nothing you can do to change the situation at this point. The fund you mention is a reputable one and my guess is the VC you dealt with must have been interested at one time and now feels otherwise. He may be busy or traveling, but usually these are excuses to avoid the awkwardness of having to say no; when people are interested, they can always find ways to get in touch. My suggestion at this point is to take this as a “no” and move on. That said, consider modifying your business model based on the feedback you received along the way to avoid a recurrence of this experience with other VCs.

MILTON CHANG is managing director of Incubic Venture Fund, which invests in photonics and in businesses related to core technologies. He was CEO/president of Newport and New Focus and currently sits on the boards of several companies, including Arcturus Bioscience, OpVista, Rockwell Scientific, and YesVideo. He holds a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in electrical engineering. He is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and the Laser Institute of America (LIA), and is a past president of the IEEE Laser Electro-Optical Society and LIA. Recently, he was elected a member of the Board of Trustees of Caltech. Visit for other articles he’s written.

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