#IAmNYAS: Chia Wei (Wade) Hsu, PhD
Published July 30, 2018
Where we start isn't always where we end up, and the career path of Academy Member and 2017 Blavatnik Awards Regional Finalist Chia Wei (Wade) Hsu, PhD, is no exception. Find out how his mentor, Academy Member and 2014 Blavatnik National Laureate Professor Marin Soljačić, helped Hsu pursue a new path that has since led to great success.
Describe some of the early experiences that first drew you to choosing science as a career.
Growing up I always liked physics for its simplicity and elegance and for how it explains what we see (as well as what we cannot see) in this world. However, I was initially planning to pursue a more “practical” career as an engineer. What changed my plan was my undergraduate research experience in Francis Starr’s group at Wesleyan University. I found that I really enjoyed working on research problems and ended up spending most of my free time on them. Also, the satisfaction I got from solving those problems and from discovering new phenomena far exceeded anything else I had experienced before. At that point it became obvious to me that scientific research was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Tell us about your current work in fundamental and applied optical physics.
I study the properties of light in complex structures with nanoscale geometries, and how we can control such properties by designing light fields or by designing the structures. We discovered a new mechanism to confine light, called ‘bound states in the continuum,’ that is now enabling new types of lasers and optical devices. And we showed that properly engineered light fields can transmit through opaque scattering media like white paint and biological tissues, which may improve how deep we can see with medical imaging.
How do you hope your research will impact the world?
I hope to positively impact society by advancing the frontier of knowledge and by inventing new technologies relevant for health, telecommunications, information processing, and energy.
"Stay curious, and don’t forget the fun in doing science!"
What career challenges have you experienced and how did you overcome them?
When I started my PhD, I chose a topic and a group that I thought I would enjoy. That didn’t turn out to be the case, and I became very frustrated one year into the program. I began exploring secondary interests and considered quitting my PhD and pursuing a more practical career instead.
It took some time and stress for me to resolve this frustration, which involved switching to a completely different field, changing my adviser, and even moving to a different school. But that turned out to be one of the greatest changes I ever made; I found a field that I truly enjoyed, a great mentor, and a group of colleagues who remain my close friends today.
One of your mentors was 2014 Blavatnik National Laureate Marin Soljačić. Can you describe the importance of this relationship and how mentorship has made a difference in your life?
Marin is a great mentor. He is brilliant and extremely creative. He gave me full freedom to tackle my research problems and in exploring my interests in my own way. He also showed me how to cultivate a congenial group of colleagues that encourages collaboration and discussion. I am truly lucky to have him as my PhD adviser, and I wouldn’t be where I am without him.
Soon I will be building my own research group, and I will strive to be as good a mentor as Marin was to me.
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
Stay curious, and don’t forget the fun in doing science!
Are you looking for a mentor in your education or career? The Academy offers Members the chance to find a mentor within our global network. Learn more about Member community, Member-to-Member Mentoring here.