Alan Wang got a double-dose of good luck in 2011, the year he came to OSU. Not only was it the year he started on his academic career, but it was also the year his son was born.
“It was the busiest time of my life!” he says. But worth it to be at OSU doing a job he aspired to, in a place that he hoped to live.
Growing up in China, Wang liked math and science over other subjects in school and especially enjoyed the applied aspect of engineering, but he didn’t know that he wanted to be professor until he started the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Austin.
“The rewards are extremely high,” he says of being a professor. “You can see your research transform into something that benefits the whole community. And also you can educate a graduate student from a fresh master’s student to a fully mature Ph.D., and then watch them go into industry or academia and make their own achievements.”
Wang was not satisfied with learning just one area in electrical engineering, so he specialized in a field that required inter-disciplinary knowledge — optoelectronics, which combines material science, microelectronics, communications and sensing.
“All digital information is transmitted as either a zero or one, and you can transmit the information using electronics, but it’s slow and it can only reach a short distance. So, for long distance communication at high speed, optics dominates,” he says.
Wang’s previous research on high-speed optical communication focused on photonic crystals.
“It’s a nanoscale photonic device that is very unique. It can manipulate photons in a unique way, and you can make a very sensitive and ultra-compact device, which is not achievable through a conventional design,” he says, explaining that this makes it well suited to medical applications such as detecting cancer biomarkers and other chemicals in the body, like glucose.
His current research explores the options for optics in healthcare, but the technology can also be used in areas like chemical sensing or pollution monitoring.
Inspired by many great mentors and their passion for learning, Wang brings that excitement to the classroom with a focus on practical applications.
“As a professor in electrical engineering, I think it is extremely important to provide the students with practical engineering skills. In my class, I particularly focus on labs and projects. This is will give the students enough opportunity to gain hand-on experiences in optical design and testing,” he says.
Away from work, Wang is an avid hiker, backpacker, and photographer of wildlife and landscapes. He and his wife have been all over the U.S. visiting many national parks. But his most challenging trip was to Tibet.
“That’s one of the most beautiful, pristine places I’ve ever traveled,” he says. “Of course the travel is difficult. You have to endure the high altitude, poor food supplies, and walking for long distances.”
A love of hiking and enjoying the outdoors is what inspired Wang and his wife to live in the Pacific Northwest. Although he admits to missing Texas barbeque which, he says, is “the best in the country.”
“We are living in a place where we want to live, we have a new member of the family, and I’m on the right track with my teaching and research programs. I have very good balance between life and work.” he says.
—By Rachel Robertson