The Line by PRF
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The Line by PRF

Take 6: Howell Li, College of Engineering

Howell Li, principal research analyst, Joint Transportation Research Program, Lyles School of Civil Engineering, Purdue University (Photo provided by Howell Li.)

Howell Li is the principal research analyst in the Joint Transportation Research Program in Purdue University’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering. He collaborated with JTRP colleague Jijo Mathew and Tom Platte of the Indiana Department of Transportation to create technology that improves safety as vehicles approach a signalized intersection.

A YouTube video featuring Li explaining how technology works is available. The technology is available for licensing at the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

Li generously shared his time to answer our questions.

Question: What led you to pursue your field?

Howell Li: Earlier in my life I got around using mostly public transit, bicycling and walking. I remember noticing and then later internalizing the clunk-clunk of a traffic signal box when I’d wait on a corner of a street to cross. They were electro-mechanical controllers at the time that had metal tabs/rings to set the timing of each movement. I would then use the sound patterns to step off into the crosswalk without having to look at the signal. Probably not a very safe thing to do in hindsight.

When I bought my first car, I took a road trip with my girlfriend (later to be my wife) to see the southwest; I think we drove about 8,000 miles in the middle of January using paper maps at the time. I learned some things on that trip: Roads were paved differently in different states; you needed to get out of your car and climb to safety in a flash flood; and it can snow so much in Arizona they close interstates. I was able to experience our country and the roads that had inspired me greatly.

(Photo provided by Howell Li.)

Q: What is something that your colleagues may not know about you?

Li: I absolutely love karaoke and enjoy singing 90s pop.

Q: What’s the biggest or scariest risk you’ve ever taken? How did you work up the nerve?

Li: Roasting hotdogs at a campsite that had bear warnings posted. It was a night after a long hike, I was ravenous and incredibly naïve at the time about the outdoors, had roasted all eight links and ate them right next to the tent. Of course, a bear came sniffing around minutes after I got into my sleeping bag. It’s absolutely terrifying to hear such an amazing animal breathe so close, with nothing separating you but a thin layer of nylon.

(Photo provided by Howell Li.)

Q: What is an interesting piece of data you have found?

Li: I’ve read recently that private equity companies have about $2.5 trillion in unspent capital, making up somewhere of around 10 to 15 percent of the country’s economy. That’s mindboggling!

Q: What is one thing in your life you use every day and couldn’t live without?

Li: A comfortable pair of shoes.

Q: What is something you are excited about or looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Li: Going on a flight with our three-year-old for the first time and seeing how the world has changed.

Thank you again Howell Li for participating in Take 6!

(Photo provided by Howell Li.)

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