Liquid Crystal Manager

From a very young age Yat Hei Lo wanted to be a scientist. He decided to study physics once he realised it forms the foundation of many other sciences.

Career: Liquid Crystal Manager, Thorlabs, Auckland.
Programme: Graduated with a Bachelor of Technology majoring in Optoelectronics, Master of Science majoring in Physics, Doctor of Philosophy in Physics.

“Physics helps one to understand the principles of even the simplest elements of daily life,” he says.

“It was this, my interest in knowing the principles behind products which involve electronics and optics, and my desire to be an expert in the optics field, that led me to choose the Bachelor of Technology programme in Optoelectronics*.”

At all levels of his tertiary education, Yat Hei was able to work with different aspects of optics including imaging, interferometry, polarisation, optical fibres, ultra-fast lasers, spectroscopy, terahertz, and much more.

“University equipped me with a solid base of knowledge, which meant I graduated with skills that fit well with my current job."

He says his Physics lecturers and supervisors were pleasant to work with and he was supported financially by a University of Auckland masters scholarship and then a doctoral scholarship, which he appreciated during his postgraduate study.

He also had many opportunities to participate in local and international conferences and symposiums.

“I learnt what the rest of the world was up to,” he says. “I particularly enjoyed a two-month internship programme in Germany - it was a special experience for me.”

Now Yat Hei is employed by Thorlabs as a research and development manager in liquid crystal technology.

Thorlabs is one of the largest companies in the world for optical components and devices, with offices in the USA and around the world, providing more than 20,000 products. Employees have a chance to work with different Thorlabs suppliers and learn about the challenges and techniques required to create different types of products.

“I’m responsible for leading the research and development team in the development of optical components, devices, and systems involving liquid crystal (LC) technology,” Yat Hei explains.

“Our end-of-line products include variable retarders, wave plates, optical tuneable filters, optical shutters and spatial light modulators, amongst others.”

Yat Hei confirms the skills and knowledge he gained studying physics are directly applicable in his job.

“My polarisation optics knowledge is the cornerstone of the technology behind the products we develop,” he says.

“During my postgraduate programmes, I developed skills in logical thinking, optical systems design, data analysis, and automation of experiments with appropriate equipment and software.

“These are all helpful when it comes to product development, especially during problem solving.  Postgraduate study taught me to learn quickly and apply new knowledge, a skill I draw on when I get the chance to work with other departments whose expertise lies more with electronics, mechanics, and industrial design rather than just optics.”

Yat Hei enjoys the freedom he gets to come up with ‘wild’ product ideas and follow that through with careful design and testing.

“It’s the fun part of engineering, and fortunately, my optics knowledge fits very well with the job requirement,” he explains.

“There can be frustrating times during iterative testing and failure, but the final success and release of new products is always satisfying.

“It is also encouraging to know how well the products we design and manufacture are received by our customers, which becomes our motivation for the next product development.”

One of the highly successful products that Yat Hei and his team have developed is the KURIOS series liquid crystal tuneable filters.

He says users might not even realise that it is heavily based on a combination of polarisation optics, dynamically switching properties of liquid crystal, sophisticated electronics, and complicated calibration.

“We build it in a way that it becomes an optical band pass filter with freely selectable passband wavelength and bandwidth. We even integrated this filter into our CERNA series microscope to achieve hyperspectral imaging which is a very helpful tool for material analysis, inspection, and biological studies.”

For students considering enrolling in Physics - Yat Hei shares his insights:

“Different aspects of physics explain the principles of things from natural phenomenon to sophisticated machinery or equipment. Studying physics can inspire one to think deeply and comprehensively about the meaning of everything, to search into the source of problems and hence effectively solve them,” he says.

“You may need other knowledge to assist in understanding Physics, such as Mathematics and Computing, but all this training combines to make you a successful problem solver. These are the core skills to become a scientist or an engineer.”

 *The programme is now a BSc(Hons) Photonics