Discovering Nature through the Lens of Fluorescence

Bedford Chamber Member  NIGHTSEA

by Brandon Olson | 06 / 20 / 2013



It’s Day 4 of Small Business Week and we are celebrating by sharing the story of a small business owner each day! Meet Charlie Mazel from Bedford, Mass., founder of NIGHTSEA, which provides solutions for viewing and photographing fluorescence underwater, on land, and in the laboratory.

What’s fluorescence, you ask? Simply put, it’s when something glows a visible color when exposed to specific light sources, for example, ultraviolet light. (I apologize to all the scientists out there for my overly simplified explanation.)


NIGHTSEA lights use high intensity LEDs for steady illumination, and for electronic flash units, it supplies custom filters that only allow the desired light to pass through. To view fluorescence, you simply carry the NIGHTSEA blue light flashlight while wearing the NIGHTSEA yellow visor. To photograph, put a NIGHTSEA blue filter over your camera’s flash to provide a blast of blue light, and a NIGHTSEA yellow filter over the camera lens to capture the fluorescence. The results are spectacular!

anemoneFor Charlie, fluorescence has been a long-time interest and hobby. He started in 1972 as a sport diver, wondering what would happen if he swam around in the middle of the night with an ultraviolet light in the cold waters of Massachusetts. He developed his own specialized equipment, and once he got everything working, it was down to the warm waters of the Caribbean to take fluorescent photos of corals. He showed the photos to a marine biologist and asked if he could explain what was happening. The biologist could not, so Charlie’s curiosity led him back to school to learn more.

“I didn’t start with the idea of a business in mind,” Charlie says.

After earning a Doctorate in Biology, with a focus on fluorescence and marine organisms, Charlie considered starting his own business. “I thought ‘Maybe other people want to see this.’ I thought of selling equipment to divers, but a friend in the dive business advised me not to go that way.” So he began working first at MIT and then at a private company, conducting research on underwater optics and fluorescence.

Timing played a big part in Charlie’s decision to take the leap into NIGHTSEA. “The funding for research work had decreased. I had been learning business stuff on the side while running another company. And I saw an opportunity for fluorescence in the industry,” Charlie says.

So in 2009, he took the leap into small business ownership and established NIGHTSEA. “I like being in business for myself, and I like making things that people use,” Charlie says. “I like hearing from people who have been diving for years and get a totally new view of the underwater world using our gear.”

Early on, Charlie experienced a crisis of confidence moment. Worried that he made the wrong decision, he reached out to an experienced entrepreneur friend for advice. “He told me, ‘There’s going to be ups and downs. You just have to deal with it,’” Charlie says. “That really brought me back down to earth.”

Mazel exhibitingCharlie says he attributes any success to the support of others around him, including his long-time friend Ross Kniffin, the one who originally advised him not to go into underwater fluorescence as a business. Ross now helps Charlie run NIGHTSEA.

“Without mentors, I would have failed long ago,” Charlie says. Support from others is a common trait among small business owners. According to a recent survey by The UPS Store, nearly half of small business owners sought out help from mentors when they were starting their business.

“So much in business comes down to personality and people,” Charlie says. So when his local UPS Store changed ownership, something clicked between him and Mostafa, the new owner, and they quickly built a relationship. Mostafa told him about the other services that could benefit his business, and he ended up switching to The UPS Store for his printing and other business needs, including the occasional custom packing and shipping job.

What does the future hold in store for NIGHTSEA? Charlie is expanding beyond the niche diving market and growing the business in the laboratory market, where there are applications for fluorescence in biotechnology research. He hopes to create greater awareness of the hidden world of fluorescence among the general public, ultimately to create greater interest and open up more applications for NIGHTSEA products.

For more information on NIGHTSEA, visit

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