What is your current job and what do you like about it?
I am currently an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering. My research involves the study of natural/biological systems and translate their clever strategies into synthetic materials for various industrial and biomedical applications. Through my research, I am amazed how nature can always come up with interesting solutions to solve their problems. I also enjoy interacting with my students both in classroom and laboratory. I teach a class in Bioinspired Interfacial Engineering, where I teach about how some plants, insects and animals use their surfaces to solve engineering problems in liquid-repellency, adhesion and optics. Last year, my research group went to the USA Science and Engineering Festival to showcase our nature-inspired technologies to the general public, which was a lot of fun!
What is a typical day like for you?
During the semester, my typical day would involve teaching in the classroom, and discuss research with my graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. From time to time, I will also work with my students in the laboratory for experiments. In addition, I will spend some time during the day to browse through the internet to learn about new science and technology from the literature or science news. When there are upcoming opportunities for potential research funding, I will also spend my time in writing proposals to acquire funding to support my research.
When you were a kid what did you want to be and if it wasn’t a scientist, what was it and why did you change your mind?
When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an architect one day – I was amazed by how people can build large and beautiful buildings. I also dreamed of becoming a mechanics that can build many different things (specifically racing cars!) – that was mostly influenced by my father who build simple furniture from scratch when needed. I did also enjoy reading about stories of scientists when I was a kid, where I started to have early appreciation of their work. I guess because of a combination of these childhood dreams and experience – I become a mechanical engineer and a professor now!
What did you do to get your current job, what kind of education did you need?
I did my undergraduate degree in automation and mechanical engineering at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where I began my research in micro- and nano-machines and sensors since freshman year. Then I was given an opportunity to study at UCLA, where I eventually obtained my PhD degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in micro- and nanotechnology. My PhD thesis was to study why natural water-repellent surfaces require surface textures of nanometer size. After my PhD degree, I went on to conduct a postdoctoral research at the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Over there, I have developed a pitcher-plant-inspired surface called Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS) that can virtually repel anything. After my postdoctoral research, I began my professorship at Penn State, where I continue to do research in nature-inspired engineering.
Tell us something fun about yourself? and it doesn’t have to be about science?
I love watching science fiction and futuristic movies, and sometimes I get my “crazy” research ideas from them.