Senior Optical Engineer, CMC Electronics, An Esterline Company, Sugar Grove, Illinois, USA
Country of birth: Taiwan
Educational background: MS Optics, University of Arizona; BSEE, University of Washington, USA
Primary responsibilities of your current job
I design aircraft "head-up displays" that project information onto a clear piece of glass between the pilot and the windshield. The pilot can simultaneously see through the windshield and see displays of aircraft performance or maps. Today, some cars are equipped with a head-up display that allows drivers to see the speedometer on the windshield without taking their eyes off the road. I also design enhanced vision
cameras that allow pilots to see in low visibility conditions. I am responsible for designing the optics, modeling the optical system performance of the product, specifying the optical components for fabrication, working as a liaison between buyers and optics manufacturers, and assisting our manufacturing department.
Biggest obstacle or challenge that you have faced in your career
I am frequently asked to break the laws of physics. I often suggest solutions that may not have all the desired features, but can be done within the amount of time and money available. My boss recently asked me to greatly increase the brightness of a display and build a prototype in a week. I suggested we instead increase the brightness a bit and also the contrast (or clarity). We convinced the customer that with better clarity, increased brightness was not necessary. I had to ask for favors and beg for spare parts to get a prototype ready in a week. It is crucial to maintain positive relationships with everyone at work so you can ask for favors when needed.
Advice you wish you had received when you were first starting out
That the people in charge of funding my project will probably not have the technical knowledge to understand my project, and that I need to explain in the simplest terms how my project works and why it should be funded. It was an eye opening experience when a Program Manager asked me to explain "étendue" in terms of a jelly donut. Volunteering in educational outreach programs is an excellent way to practice explaining what you do using simple language. If I can explain diffraction to a child, I can explain to managers why diffractive optics behave the way they do.