Physicists as Entrepreneurs

Education

Many parents confront their college-age kids with the question, “What are you going to do with a degree in that?” If a few visionaries at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland succeed, physics majors can say, “Run a company.”

That’s the goal of the Physics Entrepreneurship master’s program just being launched in the Case physics department. “We want to empower physicists as entrepreneurs,” says Cyrus Taylor, program director and physics professor. The heart of the program is a thesis in which students focus on a new physics innovation as either the basis of a startup or the solution to a problem posed by a corporate partner. Similar programs exist for engineering and e-business entrepreneurs, Taylor says, but there is nothing like it in physics.

An encounter between physics chair Lawrence Krauss and businessman Robert Stieglitz three years ago led to a lecture series on physics entrepreneurship. Feedback from speakers, students and physics alumni persuaded Krauss and Taylor to turn it into a formal program to provide training that many physics alumni said they were forced to get in “the school of hard knocks.”

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The first class will begin the two-year program this fall. “My bet is not only that we’ll succeed dramatically… but I think that it will become successful enough that it will become a prototype [for similar programs],” Krauss says.

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