21 March, 2010

Everyday Heroes II

Everyday heroes we encounter are important influences on our lives. They have the ability to alter our thinking and, often, even the direction of our decision-making. This post is part of a series I am writing about the heroes I have met.


Name: Professor Wang
Profession: professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Marital Status: married
Children: don’t know
Place of Origin: Mainland China

How we met:

Professor Wang never extended a cheerful greeting to any of his students when he encountered them outside the lecture hall. Unless you counted the clearing-his-throat greeting he occasionally extended as he walked pass, staring straight ahead. All of his students could imitate that particular clearing-his-throat sound perfectly. When Professor Wang gifted a student with it, the student was likely to speak in an awed voice recounting the momentous moment to others.

Students either loved or hated Professor Wang, whereas Professor Wang seemed to hold all students in complete indifference. Not in the sense he didn’t care, but in perfectly balanced neutrality.

It was said that Professor Wang discovered the transistor. (For those of you who don’t know what this component is, it represents the beginning of electronics.) Not as the Nobel Prize winner, but as the PhD student that did all of the legwork for the two professors who received the acclaim.

I took two of Professor Wang’s courses: Quantum Physics and Advance Laser Theory. Professor Wang’s teaching style was Zen-like in it’s simplicity. He would walk into the lecture hall with only a piece of chalk in his hand, write the last formula he wrote on the board in the previous lecture and then continue to fill the blackboard with endless mathematical arguments and extrapolation of physical phenomena.

What changed my choice of career:

Professor Wang was invited to spend a sabbatical in some think tank in the States. Upon his return, we asked him if he would give a lecture on his field of research. The next day he enters the lecture hall with his customary piece of chalk, as well as a large map of the human body’s meridian lines. To our surprise, he proceeded to give us a three-hour passionate lecture about “Chinese medicine and the future of western diagnostics”. After the lecture, I went and asked him where I could go to work in medical equipment engineering. He told me Germany.


  1. It was literally an earth changing moment. I am really enjoying these pieces with you. Thank you.

  2. Wow, another fascinating glimpse into your background, Lilalia! And that's how it came about that you live in Germany. And did you study medical equipment engineering?

  3. Maggie, I've a few more to write, just hope I can manage to get them down properly.

    There was also a moment in one of his classes when he was talking about electrons and holes. He said that in the absence of an electron there is a hole. I thought he meant that when there wasn't an electron (something) there was nothing (a hole). It turns out that even nothing (a hole) is something (i.e. possesses properties of being). This changed my whole knowlege of the physical world.

    Marja-Leena, I actually majored in telecommunications, but did end up getting a job at a large medical equipment firm.

  4. Wow .. what an impact he had! Amazing.