Fung Feature: Li Yang Kat MEng ’20 (EECS)
On studying abroad, what it takes to be a great engineer, and sharing his passion for science and math with others
Li Yang Kat is an MEng student studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS). He is originally from Singapore and has studied abroad in Sweden and South Korea. Li Yang loves the human aspect of engineering, and is passionate about sharing his fondness for STEM with other students.
On his journey to the MEng program
“I have lived and studied in Singapore all my life. Being from a small country in the heart of Southeast Asia (we are only about six times the size of San Francisco city), Singaporeans love to travel and I have had the privilege of traveling extensively. During my undergraduate study at the National University of Singapore, I had the opportunity to attend Linköping University in Sweden for an exchange program and Hanyang University in South Korea for a summer program. Now here I am at UC Berkeley.
I made the decision to enroll in the MEng program as an opportunity to further expose myself to a diverse range of experiences and at the same time sharpen my engineering skills. I believe that my interactions with the perspicacious students and dedicated faculty at UC Berkeley will enable me to grow both personally and professionally.
On studying abroad
During my six months at Linköping University, I visited many different European cities (close to 30 in total) and saw the evolution of engineering through the ages. From ships built by the Scandinavian Vikings in Norway to the development of the binary number system by Leibniz in Germany to the first long-distance wireless transmission by Marconi in the United Kingdom, I was able to experience the unboundedness of human ingenuity. (Fun fact: The Pirate Bay’s first server is on display at the Östergötland County Museum in Linköping!)
Beyond unleashing my inner geek, my experience in Sweden has definitely broadened my worldview. My studies in Singapore and travels in Europe, Asia and now North America, coupled with my ability to speak English, Mandarin, and a little Japanese and Swedish, have enabled me to develop the ability to connect with people from different cultures. I have come to realize how exposure to people from different backgrounds can really enable individuals to connect better. As an example, people become more open to conversation when you are able to identify certain iconic objects or places from their home countries.
What inspired you to study and work in the field of engineering?
I have always loved science as a child. I would frequent the library for books on science experiments and my parents encouraged me to perform an experiment every day. One of the books that inspired me to pursue physics and engineering at a higher level was Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible. Michio Kaku did a great job of breaking down futuristic technologies into simpler scientific principles that made me realize that solving large problems starts from small steps. Because of this early interest, I took up some pretty advanced physics lessons in high school.
Fast forward to my first year in university, where I had my first exposure to solving real engineering problems through Team Hornet, an autonomous underwater vehicle project at the National University of Singapore. I also got my hands dirty with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and I created my own digital signal generator from scratch, complete with direct digital synthesis, amplitude, phase and frequency modulation, and even a graphic user interface and keyboard inputs. (You can find it here: https://github.com/katliyang/Basys3-Signal-Generator. It’s a very amateurish first attempt!)
I loved every minute I spent at the lab improving my design and it was at that point that I knew a career in engineering was for me. I have often told my friends that I dreamed of carrying my own toolbox to labs because it made me feel like an engineer. Through these projects, I saw how I could contribute to future developments in digital design and computer architecture.
“As engineers, we are privileged to be able to influence the lives of others in so many positive ways, and we should appreciate and value this faith placed in us.”
Beyond technical competence and excellence, what I love about engineering is that it is also fundamentally about being human. Technical competence without wisdom and humility is akin to playing the piano without using the pedals. You may hit all the right notes at the right times, but what you play will never be music. As engineers, we are privileged to be able to influence the lives of others in so many positive ways, and we should appreciate and value this faith placed in us. A good engineer is technically competent, but taking the time to understand the needs of our users, dedicating ourselves to continuously improve our skills, and always demonstrating utmost integrity are the hallmarks of a great engineer.
In engineering, we develop models and algorithms that predict the behavior of the physical universe, but one thing these mathematical constructs cannot foresee is our innate ability to learn and desire for growth. That is what makes us human. The inquisitiveness of the students I have had the pleasure of interacting with throughout my engineering education continues to inspire me, and will most certainly lead the world towards our next frontier.
“A good engineer is technically competent, but taking the time to understand the needs of our users, dedicating ourselves to continuously improve our skills, and always demonstrating utmost integrity are the hallmarks of a great engineer.”
What is your Capstone project?
My Capstone project involves retinal tracking and stimulation to deliver color stimuli outside typical human color perception. The project is led by Professor Ren Ng from the EECS department and Professor Austin Roorda from the Vision Science department. More specifically, our goal is to enable users to view color images by directly stimulating individual cone cells on the retina. By conferring greater control over the stimulation of individual cone cells, we could potentially allow users to see colors that they have never perceived before.
What is something you’re passionate about and why?
I have always felt very privileged and sought to contribute to society in any small way. One of the ways I have done this is by volunteering at a home for the intellectually disabled. We organize regular activities for the residents and visit them on a regular basis to provide them with social support since they rarely interact with regular members of society. They are always happy to see volunteers and their joy is extremely contagious. Seeing their smiles during a tough period always gives me relief.
I have also enjoyed sharing with others my passion for science and engineering through my teaching experiences. During my undergraduate studies, I volunteered to give peer tuition to students who were facing difficulty with engineering mathematics. I also taught groups of 10 to 40 students programming methodology and bare-metal hardware programming. I did these as I wanted others to find the same passion in engineering that I did. Furthermore, I believe that we can only achieve progress when we work together through collaboration and cooperation, and teaching others was one of the ways I could build relationships with young and talented future engineers.
“I believe that we can only achieve progress when we work together through collaboration and cooperation”
Connect with Li Yang // As told to Lauren Leung