For this alumnus the first step in an exciting career in Geomatics was finding out exactly what it was

Xing fan in an airplane with a bunch of gear

Xing Fan is getting ready for a month-long business trip to China. Though the 2011 Geography and Environmental Management graduate was born and raised in China, he won’t have time to see friends and family.

“It is all work,” he says.  “I am on a pretty tight schedule, so I don’t have time to see them.” Fan is headed to Tsingdao city, Shandong province and Yin Chuan city in Ning Xia province – both very remote parts of the massive country. He’s there to put his specialization in geomatics to the test. As a new employee of Toronto-based Optech Inc., Fan is charged with introducing potential Chinese clients to Optech’s world-renown LiDAR technology.

LiDAR is short for Light Detection and Ranging. It is an optical remote sensing technology that uses advanced lasers beamed to the ground from an airplane at the speed of light -- 0.3 meters per nanosecond. Calculating how far a returning light photon has traveled to and from the target offers a detailed picture of the target area.

“My job is to test the instruments, make deliveries and train the customers how to use the system and instruments from installation to operation to data processing,” he explains. “This is the airborne system.

I operate the system while airborne, and fire lasers at the ground so we can get information from the ground.”

LiDAR has many practical applications for agriculture, conservation, resource extraction, meteorology and even spaceflight. Most of the clients Fan deals with for Optech are government, military and consultants who collect data and then sell it.

The level of trust Optech has shown in Fan as a technician is remarkable considering it was not long ago that Fan didn’t even know what geomatics was. Coming out of high school in North York Fan wasn’t really sure what he was going to study. “I choose this because it looked cool and I had never heard of it before,” he says.

“My father is a geologist and he’s still doing a lot of field work,” Fan explains. “I was born and raised in that atmosphere. I know that the environment is important to humankind and I thought, why not give it a shot.”

It turned out to be a great choice. Not only did Fan eventually graduate a year early, but his post-graduation job hunt lasted less than two weeks before Optech came calling to offer him a position – not quite the speed of light, but close.