In our series, The ECS Community Adapts and Advances, Yue Kuo talks about the role of ECS members in solving humanity’s grand challenges, including the pandemic. Yue holds the Dow Professorship in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering with a joint appointment in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU). After receiving his BS from National Taiwan University in 1974, Yue earned his PhD at Columbia University, U.S., in 1979. For the next two decades, he worked at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center at Yorktown Heights and Data General Semiconductor Division in Silicon Valley. Throughout his career, Yue has tirelessly donated extraordinary service in many different Society volunteer roles.

Yue Kuo co-chairs two PRiME 2020 session: H03 – TFT Applications in Displays, ICs, and Beyond on Wednesday, October 7, from 1400 – 1810h; and H03 – TFT Device Characteristics and Reliability 1 on Monday, October 5, from 800-1150h.

Society comes together

“First, I want to express my condolences to ECS members and non-members whose family or friends have suffered from this pandemic.

When I first heard about Wuhan being locked down, I thought that would never work in the US. Then, when it happened, I thought, ’Okay, this is going to last a week or two.’ If you had told me that it would last three months or more, I would have said it was impossible. But we’ve made it work.

To me, it’s an encouraging sign that social collective action is possible, that we can act in society’s—rather than the individual’s—best interests. Because it will take collective, societal action to deal with climate change and the other grand challenges we face. My big take-away from this period is that we can do this, and we will do it together.

In The Electrochemical Society, we have a strong sense of society and the value that a group like ours brings. Now I’m seeing it play out on a much broader scale, and it’s very encouraging.”

ECS members work towards solutions

“Other researchers and I are seizing this time to bring new creative thinking to solve humanity’s big problems. Even if we only manage to address a small portion of a problem, we foresee new solutions.

Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, ECS can host a symposium where our members present the new thinking resulting from the pandemic lock-down. Almost every ECS division has a role to play in battling pandemics. We can contribute in a fundamental way to stopping the disease. Many of us are using the principles of science or natural chemistry to detect the virus in the early stages to prevent people from becoming infected. Others are working on solving the problem of infection, treatments, or even a cure.

That gives me great hope and showcases the importance of what we do at ECS. Our members are using their knowledge, technology and, most importantly, their humanity, to better society.”

The new digital normal

“The biggest challenge of online teaching is how difficult it is for students to stay focused. It is critical to present the material in a very clear fashion. I spend a lot of time preparing teaching materials, creating good PowerPoints with strong key points, and formulating answers to possible questions.

Our goal is to live life as normally as possible so we stick to the principles and teach the same class at the same time. TAMU is very international, but I never hear complaints from students who returned home to different time zones and now take classes at odd times.

I teach a numerical course where students use the computer lab to do the necessary equations. From their homes, they have to link to the mainframe computer, communicating with the server which requires a high-speed connection. This is very frustrating for students without high-speed access, and it takes them more time to get their work done.”

COVID-19 challenges create opportunities

“This pandemic has provided new challenges and opportunities for students and professors. With the lab closed, my students and I cannot collect new data. However, we can benefit from this rare time away from the lab to develop theories or use computer modelling for data in hand. This is an opportune time to turn away from old research topics. I am focusing on thinking about what is new. Changing direction can spawn new ideas.

Over the last 30 years, I have probably only missed one or two biannual ECS meetings. This works out to having spent a whole year of my life at the Society’s meetings! I don’t think I am exceptional; many ECS members and leaders have done the same, or more. It’s not just about dedication; it demonstrates the high level of interest in the meeting content. That’s why ECS can now explore the advantages of high speed communications to broaden ECS activities.”

Life lessons and new opportunities

”If you have a child who is a teenager, or a college student, or a college graduate, think about how often you see them. They only come home once in a while, right? With the pandemic, they are home. After the pandemic, parents and their children will have a much stronger bond. I hear that families are beginning to understand each other better than they did before. That’s very good.

I told my son to think about 50 years in the future when he tells his children about his experience during the big pandemic, just like the generation before ours talked about the Spanish Flu! He can describe everyone being locked up at home and how we stayed busy. It’s an experience that money can’t buy!”