Driven by passion for research, engineer chooses SFU to pursue a PhD in mechatronics

June 06, 2022

By Rachel Mah

Already equipped with a master’s degree in engineering and after nine years working in China’s government research and industry sectors, Chao Bao made the difficult decision to leave a stable position to pursue a doctorate degree. Although satisfied with his career, Bao decided to follow his passion for research and pursue a PhD degree with the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering after a colleague recommended working with mechatronics professor Woo Soo Kim.

Through his time at SFU, Bao developed a passion for 3D-printing and low-power consuming sensor engineering systems such as neuromorphic systems, topics he had no prior knowledge in before joining his program.

“I was definitely a novice in the field of research that I chose to explore for my thesis,” says Bao.

“But overtime, I grew to love it as I realized that this newly-found interest of mine was complementary to my background in mechanical design and simulation.”

Bao has always had the desire to make a difference in the world and through his research, he was able to achieve this.

“Ever since I started my academic journey, I have wanted to find a way to help others and make a difference in society,” recalls Bao. “I knew that my PhD research was my chance to accomplish this goal.”

As a member of SFU’s Additive Manufacturing Laboratory, Bao worked to establish a 3D-printed humanoid robot hand that could mimic functions of the human nervous system. This innovative prototype uses in-memory computing to replicate the human reflex arc and manage the transmission of information within the body. If successfully executed, this unique system will have the ability to unconsciously control its motion and imitate the movements of a real human hand. This ground-breaking solution carries the potential to further advance the technology around prosthetic implants and improve the lives of individuals who have a physical disability.

In the midst of his efforts to uncover a viable solution to help others, he was faced with a couple of obstacles himself. Bao was confronted with many pressures as he had left a comfortable industry position with a stable income and people would ask about his financial situation, and what he was going to do after graduation.

However, by having a reliable support system to fall back on, Bao was able to overcome this difficult hurdle. He credits his family and Kim as his supervisor for their guidance and encouragement while he was completing his degree. Not only did Kim help Bao lay a foundation for his research, he also made him feel welcome in the academic community.

“I am very thankful to Dr. Kim for not only becoming a mentor and supporting my academic endeavours, but also for becoming a lifelong friend,” says Bao.

“Chao has a positive attitude that increases morale in my research lab and his lighthearted mood motivates others on my team. I was always confident to put him in front whenever I would work on projects with my collaborators such as the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute (KERI) during his PhD study,” says Kim.

Bao will be receiving the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal during SFU’s June 2022 Convocation Ceremony. This honour is given to a graduating student from each faculty who has achieved the highest level of academic excellence in their graduate program.

“It is exciting and an honour” says Bao. “I sometimes doubted my decision to pursue my PhD, but this award validates that I did make the right decision and acknowledges that all of the research that I have done in the past four years was worth it.”

Now, Bao is continuing his work as a research associate at SFU and will be a Mitacs-funded post-doctoral fellow, collaborating with a local company in the construction field by building a novel additive manufacturing system. As for his plans in the future, he hopes to pursue a career as an academic researcher in a faculty position.

Meet more of our June graduands here >>