Mechanical engineer Lei-Kun Cheow is a Senior III-V Epitaxy Engineer with the Semiconductor Products Group at Agilent Technologies in Singapore.
WHAT SHE DOES:
Much of what I do goes to making light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and lasers as the end products. LEDs that we see everyday are those components that light up mobile handsets in multi colors and traffic lights in red, green and amber. They are used in vehicle brake lamps and signal lamps; optical mice and many other display applications. Lasers are usually used to transmit information through underground fiber cables so we get our information accurately and quickly.
Though LEDs may look simple and small, it was a technological breakthrough at the time it was invented. LEDs are small (so they can fit into a mobile handset - imagine a conventional light bulb in a handset!), use much less current and last much longer than conventional light bulbs.
My job is to manufacture the portion that emits light, called epitaxial layers that are only 0.001mm thick. This job involves making sure the LEDs and lasers emit light of the correct color and brightness, and have a long operating lifetime, among other things.
My job requires me to work in a cleanroom – an area where the humidity of the air and the number of particles is controlled. People working in the cleanroom have to wear a special suit with a safety mouth mask and vinyl gloves to prevent moisture from transferring to our products.
Master in Advanced Materials for Micro- and Nano-systems, Singapore-MIT Alliance at the National University Singapore.
Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (Honors), University of Technology Petronas, Malaysia
HOW SHE PREPARED FOR OR CHOSE ENGINEERING:
Although I was not immediately certain that engineering was a field I wanted as a career, I was definitely curious about how things around me worked. Thus, I would try to link what I was studying in high school to the physical phenomena around me. That kept me interested in technology and science through university. Moreover, choosing engineering was not a difficult decision since many of my girlfriends also wanted to go into it. Later, I chose to study materials for small systems because my curiosity was piqued by the fact that so much could be taking place in a blob of matter that is not even visible to the eye. The professors in the university, with their knowledge and passion for the subject, reinforced my interest in engineering materials that are useful in many areas of our lives.
WHAT SHE LIKES ABOUT ENGINEERING:
I can’t help but feel awed that the 'mysteries' of nature could be explained and understood in scientific terms. The best part is to be able to use this understanding to facilitate the design of new things that aid our daily activities. As an example, we can engineer materials to give out light of different colors or of varying brightness to suit our needs. It is also gratifying to use and combine information from books and journals to help me in my work. Engineering is fascinating because one observation may lead to a set of experiments where results can open up new avenues for research. Engineering involves constant learning which keeps the mind active and fires passion for the job.
BIGGEST ON THE JOB SURPRISE:
As my supervisor always says, an engineer should work herself out of a job! What this means is a good engineer should solve a problem completely, instead of trying to work round the nagging problem each day. That way, he can move on to the next problem, and when the whole process can work on its own perfectly, it no longer needs an engineer. Of course, I don't lose my job after I work myself out of something. I just move on to more challenging tasks.
ADVICE TO STUDENTS:
There must first be an interest in science. After all, an engineer’s job is to bridge scientific concepts and their applications.
Although engineering is still a male-dominated environment, being as knowledgeable and equally competent as male peers is sufficient to open up fair opportunities for the female engineer. There is actually no difficulty working in a field that is largely dominated by males - male colleagues are no less helpful. In fact, the general female trait for having an eye for detail has been a big plus point for me in helping me do my job better. In my department, 30% of the engineers are female. Female engineers bring traits and skills that can complement those of male engineers.
If you are good at math and science, and you have an inquisitive mind, engineering is definitely something you should consider as a career.
Contact Lei-Kun at firstname.lastname@example.org