Zach Landhuis
DNA specialist, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Topeka, Kansas
Zach Landhuis

Forensic scientist

Originally interested in being a chiropractor, Zach began reconsidering a career in the health professions as a junior. Surveys he took in the Career Development Center showed that biology and law enforcement/criminal justice would be good fits for him. As Zach did more research, he discovered forensics was the perfect intersection of those fields. He’s now begun a career in that field after completing a master's degree at Michigan State University.

Why did you choose Northwestern?

NWC has a very strong biology-health professions program, and I could continue my track and field career on a scholarship.

What did you appreciate about Northwestern’s faculty?

The faculty are very passionate about what they teach. I really enjoyed interacting with professors outside of my field of study as well as those in biology. I got as much individual attention and help as I needed.

How did your Northwestern education prepare you for graduate school?

The programs I applied for were very competitive, and the one I chose admitted only two that year. The strength of my undergrad education was one of the big reasons I felt confident applying for these programs. Once I got into graduate school, there were definitely some really challenging courses, but the study habits I’d developed in the upper-level biology and chemistry courses while at Northwestern certainly paid off. I even took a few graduate-level courses that were easier than some of my classes at Northwestern. 

What are some of the strengths of Northwestern’s biology department?

By far the biggest strength is the faculty members. I believe I had almost every professor at some point, and I loved the challenging upper-level courses I took with Dr. Davis, Dr. Noordewier and Dr. Heeg. Even though I’ve gone more to the molecular side of biology, the histology and anatomy courses I took prepared me for the workload of graduate school. The small class sizes are also a huge benefit. As a graduate teaching assistant, I often taught classes of more than 200 students, which really puts into perspective how good I had it at Northwestern with getting so much professor interaction. In addition, Randy Van Peursem in the Peer Learning Center is one of Northwestern’s greatest resources. He is so patient and knowledgeable in such a huge variety of science subjects. I really believe much of my success in upper-level courses at Northwestern stemmed from opportunities I had to interact with and learn from Randy.

What are Northwestern’s strengths?

Small class size, excellent faculty and the liberal arts education. Compared to my graduate school peers, I felt like I was a much more well-rounded person because of the wide variety of courses required at a liberal arts school like Northwestern.

How did you choose Michigan State?

I was accepted into all three master’s programs in forensic science that I applied to, and really it was a no-brainer to choose Michigan State. They have very small cohort sizes, which means we got a ton of time in the lab researching and even got to run some real identification cases with the Michigan State Police and various medical examiners in the area. These are the sort of things some of the bigger programs didn’t really offer, and MSU is very well-known and respected for their forensic science program.

What excites you about DNA analysis?

With full DNA profiles, the probability of a profile matching another random individual can be far lower than one in hundreds of trillions, which makes it such a convincing argument in court.

What’s an example of a special opportunity you got at Michigan State?

Working with my supervising professor, I was a co-consultant in offering accurate technical information for the Batman and Robin Crime Scene Investigation Series, a kids’ book series that explains the types of forensic science.