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#1 Hero Device: Coincidence, science, and destiny



By Di Liang, Hewlett Packard Labs Research Scientist and Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

Like many kids born in early 80s in China, I was the first generation of the "one child policy" in China, which followed the turbulent 10-year Cultural Revolution, which deprived of my parents of their chance to pursue a higher education, as it did hundreds of thousands of teenagers in their generation. Naturally, they embedded their lifetime good wishes in me, beginning with selecting my name very carefully.

My given name "Di" ("迪" in Chinese character) was from the great American inventor Thomas Edison. (Edison in Chinese translation,"爱迪生" has three characters and “Di” is one of them.) My parents wanted me to be a knowledgeable and innovative person, developing new technologies and ideas to solve problems in nature, like Edison and many other scientists.

Other than picking the elementary and junior high schools for me, they let me make all major decisions based on my interests. In fact they didn't even have much chance of influencing my decisions because my Dad was always overwhelmed by his own job and by taking care of me after my Mom passed away when I was ten.

But it seems that the career path I chose fell precisely into the exact course they had wished for, with several interesting coincidences surely beyond their wildest imagination. I did take a research scientist job happily which requires to think outside the box more than occasionally.

Edison developed one of the very first practical optoelectronic devices, the light bulb. My research area is also optoelectronics with an emphasis on the "diode laser", another super useful light-emitting device, whose abbreviation "DL" happens to be my initials.

Edison triumphed in his right choice in material for the filament so that the light bulbs would last a reasonable number of hours. Now my colleagues and I are focusing on using the right materials as well: Advanced quantum dot compound semiconductors for efficient light emission; cheap but high-quality silicon for waveguiding, mechanic support and future low-cost volume chip production; and special dielectric materials for more functionalities and energy saving. The goal is to make reliable (well beyond incandescent light bulbs) and efficient lasers to eventually enable a photonic interconnect system for The Machine and other world-changing cool projects.

Having worked in cleanrooms over the past 14 years to fabricate numerous semiconductor devices, I see my name "Di", or "DI" or "di" labeled in almost every “wet bench” people use for liquid involved in certain processing steps. It stands for "deionized water", one of the indispensable supplies for any semiconductor processing facility, which is used to ensure a contamination-free wet processing. If one day I don't need to work in a cleanroom anymore I would certainly keep an empty DI water bottle as a souvenir.

A light-related destiny (or coincidence) has apparently extended even further. My son was born six weeks premature, and my wife and I had to rack our brains to come up with a name for him in a short period of time. My wife picked "Lucas" purely because of her fondness for its pronunciation, its recent popularity, and the flow of those five letters. But when I looked up its origin and underlying meaning, I was delighted to find that it carries the meaning of "light-giving" or "illumination."

Of all the light-emitting devices I ever made, Lucas is the #1 hero device undisputedly.

I believe everyone may find things connecting more or less by a seemingly supernatural power if you care and dig a little bit deep. The tie might be, but who doesn't like a pleasant coincidence to cheer you up in a day of your life? When you are feeling down, and are beginning to question your choice and abilities in your work or after-work life, why not think about those coincidences? It may bring you faith and power to shape your own destiny in many ways.


Read more about Di Liang’s work.

About the Author


Di Liang is a research scientist at Hewlett Packard Labs, and leading the advanced development of hybrid silicon photonics for optical interconnect system in The Machine and other applications. He has authored and coauthored over 130 journal and conference papers, five book chapters, and was granted by nine US/international patents with another 30+ pending. He is a senior member of IEEE, and member of OSA.