THE INTERSECTION OF BUSINESS AND PHOTONICS TECHNOLOGY
MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management was president of Newport
and New Focus. He is currently director of mBio Diagnostics and
Aurrion. He is a Trustee of the California Institute of Technology and has
served on the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging
Companies and the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology of the
National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the authoring
committee of the National Academies’ Optics and Photonics: Essential
Technologies for Our Nation. Chang is a Fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA.
Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel you have
something notable about your company or opinion about our community
to share with our readers, and check out his book Toward
Entrepreneurship at www.miltonchang.com.
Developing new photonics
technologies creates unique
solutions for new problems
This month, I interviewed Dr.
Yong Zhang, CEO of Access
Laser Company (Everett, WA).
He received his PhD from
Caltech after his college education in China. It is interesting
to note that he and I have the
same Chinese last name. The
current translation is Zhang,
whereas pre-Mao it was Chang. The
implication is he is younger and came
from China, whereas I came from
MC: What was your experience
YZ: Professors and fellow students
were impressive, and a bit intimidating—they were all smarter. Professors
Bill Bridges, Amnon Yariv, and Dave
Middlebrook left a deep impact on me.
I learned to understand the physics behind the math to develop the right intuition. Approximation and model building were essential in solving real-world
problems—doing so required a deep
understanding of the physics.
MC: Well, that’s how we learned to
not be arrogant. Was it easy for you
to adjust to the culture in Pasadena?
YZ: I had a good experience. I was prepared for a cultural shock—the real
shock was that there was no cultural
shock. The nature of people is very similar between China and the U.S.
MC: You did well on your first job, obviously. What did
YZ: Some classmates and I talked about starting our own business
before graduating. My later experience led me to believe we could
not have succeeded because there are practical issues we’d have to
learn by making mistakes. The technical know-how people before
us have developed may not be hard to understand when it is shown
to us, but it could’ve taken a lifetime to figure out without that input.
MC: Did you have notable mentors along the way?
YZ: Yes. I learned a lot from my boss Peter Laakmann, founder and CEO of
Synrad, who trusted me, and I responded by being worthy of his trust. I left
the company only after Peter’s untimely death.
MC: Then, you founded Access Laser? What were the initial applications?
YZ: I left Synrad and started to consult for other companies. Then, I started
Access Laser. Initial applications of our CO2 lasers were mostly for academic research. Customers required stability in wavelength, mode, and power. Tunability
was also key in many applications. The uniqueness of our products enabled customers to develop commercial systems that were also unique.
MC: I still think of the CO2 laser as a raw power source. How about nam-
ing a few lesser-known applications?
YZ: Our lasers are used in a variety of spectroscopy schemes to detect trace
gas for industrial processes, environmental monitoring, and medical diagnostics. They are used in fog-penetrating optical detection/imaging/ranging
and in the processing of glass/quartz materials, such as the manufacturing of
critical components for high-power fiber lasers. Another continued on page 70