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Dream Big, but Start Small ——an Interview of MEE Assistant Professor U Kei Cheang

----“SUSTech is a research university, but the teachers and staffs are surprisingly close to the students.”
Professor U Kei Cheang left Macau when he was 8 years old. Since then, he settled down in the United States and studied for his bachelor, master’s, PhD degrees at Drexel University. In 2017, he joined SUSTech as an assistant professor of the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering.

When I asked what impressed him most in the last half year at SUSTech, his answer surprised me a lot.
He said, “I think SUSTech is a very good place for both education and research. Often, the professors of a research-oriented university focus on research and consider teaching as their secondary job. In some cases, professors would try avoid students all together. This is because research universities evaluate their professors mostly base on their research achievements. Professors from teaching universities, however, can focus 100% of their attention on teaching. Student and teachers can be very close.
SUSTech is a research university, but the teachers and staffs are surprisingly close to the students. Of course, professors at SUSTech have to spend a considerable amount of time on research, but all the while, the students are not forgotten. I remember when Prof. Ke invited Prof. Rong, Prof. Wu, Prof. Huang and me to see the final presentations for his robotics class. I was a bit surprised. Because in the previous universities I’ve studied or worked in, I’ve never seen 5 professors willing to take 1-2 hours out of their busy schedules to come see undergraduate presentations. If there is a model for maintaining both world-class level research and excellent teaching, I believe SUSTech can be this model. I hope we can maintain our excellence in research and teaching for years to come.”
----Consolidate our knowledge and pursue further innovation
From U Kei’s point of view, on paper, the educational model in American and Chinese universities are very similar. But in practice, there are a lot of differences due to cultural reasons. American families do not emphasize education the way Chinese families do. Americans believe in independent thinking, so many young people are free to pursue their dreams. In China, our culture emphasizes hard work and success. Because of this, youths are often stressed by school work and family expectations. There are pros and cons to both sides: In America, motivated young people can flourish with independence, but the less motivated students lack guidance and focus. In China, students have strong education foundation, but are often stressed by responsibilities.
U Kei emphasized that stress kills creativity. Stress forces people to work hard, but true inspiration comes from open-mindedness and independent thinking. However, in school and real life, people are faced with stressful responsibilities. For instance, students are constantly stressed over GPA. “So my main advice, is to manage your life well. If your mind is completely filled with the stress of the daily routines of your life, how can you have any room left for creativity? Manage your time, get organized, plan ahead, and study ahead. Once you can handle your life, then you can be creative,” U Kei said.
“So far, SUSTech is able to maintain a good balance, upholding our Chinese values and building strong education foundations while encouraging innovation and creativity.”
----Dream big, but start small
U Kei Cheang’s research group now focuses on robotics, fabrication, and fluid mechanics at the micro- and nanoscale. He first learnt about microrobotics when he met Professor Min Jun Kim at Drexel University. While in Dr. Kim’s group, he also met Dr. Edward Steager who was his mentor for 2 years. Drs. Kim and Steager inspired him to appreciate the micro- and nanoscale world. Research in micro-engineering eventually inspired him to pursue higher education. With this passion, U Kei decided to continue in the field of microrobotics for his PhD research. “Now here I am, at SUSTech, leading my own research in micro- and nanorobotics.” He smiled with pride.

When it comes to applications in the medical field, robotics has contributed greatly to the success of surgical procedures. There are many examples, for instance, we’ve all heard of the Da Vinci Surgical System used for minimally invasive surgery. In short, robotic systems allow doctors to perform very complex procedures with very high precision. U Kei believed that in the field of micro- and nanorobotics, he is doing the same; except he is doing this in a much smaller scale. Imagine controlling a group of tiny robots, not visible to the naked eye, in the human body to unclog arteries or deliver medication to damaged cells. This has the potential to revolutionize the many medical procedures.
U Kei said, “At this stage, we are far from our goal, but the current research in the field of micro- and nanorobotics will help lay the scientific foundation.” He reminds me of a saying, “Dream big, but start small”. Sincerely, I give my best wishes to U Kei and his team to realize their ambition in the nearly future.
----Shape yourself into the person you would like to be
When U Kei has free time, he likes to watch movies, TV shows, the news, read novels, sketch, and read about history.
He believes that during the 4 years of college, it is important for students to shape themselves into the person they would like to be for the rest of their lives. He suggested that students should develop interests in hobbies that can help them to both relieve stress and promote self-development. For example, students can play sports to stay healthy, watch the news to stay informed, or read books to expand one’s horizon. For students who want to improve English, they can also watch American movies and TV shows with English subtitles.

Finally, U Kei gave us one more suggestion, “I would also like to encourage students to do volunteer work. I often volunteered at a number of charitable organizations when I was a student. I think it is important for students to foster a kind heart and develop a habit of helping others.”

Authors: Bolin He, Jiyu Xie
Photographer: Bolin He