Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Wendy Gu
Spotlight

Wendy Gu

Mechanical Engineering
Story originally published on Aug 2021
#IAmAnEngineer: I’ve always liked research. I really became interested in both engineering and nanotechnology as a high school student when I had the chance to go to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab for a program where different scientists presented their work every Saturday.

Just hearing about all that research was really exciting for me.

A lot of cutting-edge research projects really need an interdisciplinary approach, and today I take on projects where I draw a little bit from chemistry, a little from materials science, and apply that to mechanical engineering problems. My group works on making materials stronger using nanotechnology, and a lot of our work is designing nanoparticles that range in size from 20 atoms to tens of thousands.

Many of the applications we’re working toward are related to sustainability — things like materials for a zero-emission hydrogen economy and stronger lightweight aluminum alloys that can be used in planes and cars, which could reduce weight and fuel consumption and have a huge impact on carbon emissions. But for me, what I really love is the sense of wonder I get when I look at these physics problems. When I look at an electron microscope image, I’m still astonished that we can visualize atoms. One of our new frontiers is looking at motion inside of materials — the idea that you can have this hard, solid material that you can look inside of, and see things as small as micro-scale objects that are moving under stress or when you apply temperature. It’s just amazing, and I don’t think that sense of wonder is ever going to leave me.

I also love teaching and mentoring, and working with my graduate students and undergrads. I’d love to do everything — policy, fundamental work, applied work — but I just can’t. By mentoring students I can seed these ideas in the people I work with, and they can go out and do all these amazing things. They’re so enthusiastic and capable, and I feel a great responsibility to give them the tools they need.

Being an engineer means being a bit of a dreamer; someone who can imagine a better world, then work on building that. I tell students that the ability to approach a problem and figure out how to solve it — regardless of what field it involves — is the most important skill they can have. Don’t be too worried about what job you get in the end; there are going to be jobs that don’t even exist yet, and you can easily switch between different jobs at the end of your education. Be open to a lot of different things.

Related spotlights

""

Renee Zhao

Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering
I study soft composites and soft robotic systems for use in minimally invasive biomedical devices.
Read Renee Zhao's story
""

Meo Kittiwanich

Director of Student and Academic Services
Electrical Engineering
I’ve been in Electrical Engineering for nine years where I’m now the Director of Student and Academic Services.
Read Meo Kittiwanich's story
""

Dhiraj Indana

PhD
Mechanical Engineering
My parents, who are both doctors, instilled in me a love of biology.
Read Dhiraj Indana's story