A passion for clean energy drives systems engineer.
Li Tang believes an engineer’s ultimate value is to put technology into people’s hands that leads to a positive impact on the environment. The systems analysis engineer with Delphi Technologies’ Intelligent Driving team sees it as her responsibility to use her talents in ways that make future clean energy innovations a reality. From bio-inspired robots to cloud-linked propulsion systems, Tang is committed to combining scientific theories with real-world applications to make a difference.
What led you to a career in engineering?
I have enjoyed physics and mathematics since I was very young, so it was natural for me to choose a major in the field of engineering. Another influential factor was my parents, especially my mother. She is an architect. I feel it is so cool to turn one’s design on paper into something real in the world that people can see and touch. And, my father is a doctor. So both work in fields that are application-oriented, which helped me to develop a curious, problem-solving mindset.
You took part in some interesting projects when you were in school. Describe a few.
When I was at Carnegie Mellon, I was on the design team for flapping robots, which is a robot that looks like a fly. Its bone or frame is made of carbon and its wings are made of piezoelectric material. When you squeeze certain piezoelectric material, such as quartz, you can make electricity flow through them. The reverse is usually true, as well: If you pass electricity through the material, they “squeeze themselves” by vibrating back and forth. The robot takes advantage of this material to flap. When the electric power is well controlled, force can be generated through flapping motion and the robot will fly like a fly. It was a cool project with bio-inspired robotics that provided me with hands-on work.
I am also proud of the work I did in designing an optimal supervisory controller for hybrid electric vehicles, which balanced fuel economy with the effects of aging on the battery. We combined scientific theories with real-world applications in order to make a difference.
Why the interest in clean energy?
I attended a lecture about energy alternatives when I was a student in China, and it intrigued me. Developing continuing sources of energy that do not negatively affect the environment is a major issue in China. For me, it is about quality of life and doing what I can to make a positive impact. With clean energy, I could see a path forward for myself with the potential to contribute to the greater good.
What made you consider a career in the auto industry?
Actually, I did not set out to work in the industry. My interest was clean energy. I had done a lot of reading about the oil crisis and peak oil (when oil extraction from the Earth is expected to be exhausted), and I could see a need and a future. After some more research, I decided to pursue clean energy transportation. Since the auto industry is the most influential factor among all kinds of transportation, it was a natural fit.
What would you say to encourage other engineers to join the industry?
Albert Einstein said: “Try to be a person of value, rather than of success.” I really believe in this. If you are an engineer, there is no better time than now to take the step into the auto industry. You will be surprised by how much you can do to put technology into people’s hands and to make a positive difference to the environment. To me, as an engineer, there is no greater value.
What do you like about working at Delphi Technologies?
Clean energy vehicles or hybrid electric vehicles are the trend. How to manage the power and energy available onboard is key to a more efficient and economic powertrain system. From an innovation standpoint, this is where Delphi Technologies is focused.
Aside from the innovation opportunities, the people here are very supportive. Many are already experts in their field, yet they are always ready to learn, to take advice from others and to share. This makes it a positive, nurturing culture. As a person just out of school, nothing is more important than a good environment where you can grow.
Describe the work you're doing now. What makes it exciting?
I am currently developing a control algorithm for Intelligent Driving. It configures the vehicle’s optimal speed profile using knowledge of future traffic conditions. With this information, it determines the best power source from the different energy supplies available on the vehicle such as fuel and batteries. The goal is to conserve energy consumption while making sure all road safety considerations are met.
What makes it fun is that I get to combine lab work and computer time with actual testing of the algorithm on our demonstration vehicles. It is wonderful to see the practical application of the work.
What challenges have you encountered as a woman in STEM?
Honestly, not many. Overall, I think the world is becoming more accepting toward women in science.
What advice would you offer other women in STEM?
Know your value and what you are capable of achieving. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in stereotypes, which can prevent you from even trying to be the person you really want to be. Be confident. Ignore the stereotypes. Speak up for yourself by knowing your value and capabilities.