A recent piece of news coming out of America caught my attention: Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, became one of the first female members to be admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club. The Augusta National Golf Club is the home of the Masters tournament which had, until about a month ago, excluded women throughout its 80-year history. I have read about Rice’s background and her accomplishments in so many areas ranging from sports to music to academics, not to mention politics and international affairs. She has proven again and again the Russian proverb “women can do everything; men can do the rest” and the Chinese saying “women can hold up half of the sky.”
I cannot picture myself playing golf, nor do I intend to, because, while I like sports in general, I am not athletically inclined. However, like Rice, I am not unfamiliar with what historically has been considered to be men’s territory. I am a material forming and control engineering student and my area of interest has been the microcosmic mechanism of steel and other alloy materials, an area in which female students are definitely in the minority. For me, my interest in science, particularly materials science, was natural. My grandfather belonged to the first generation of pilots of the People’s Republic of China. I grew up under his care. The type of stories he shared with me were often a mixture his encounters with Chinese and world leaders he had flown and the mechanical features of the flight deck. My father is not a pilot, but his job requires that he spends most of his work hours in the cockpit of aircrafts as a radio communication maintenance engineer. I have lost count of the number of times I accompanied him to test radio signals or fix radio problems. Under the influence of my grandpa and my father, I developed an early interest in mechanics, electric circuits, physics and chemistry.
It was later in college that I gained a much deeper appreciation of the complicated and almost mysterious inner workings of metal materials. The study of metallography and heat treatment guided me into the microcosmic world. Heat treatment processes such as quenching and tempering can significantly change these properties. I also investigated the mechanical properties of materials, defects and their propagation, as well as their behavior under static, dynamic, and cyclic loads. With the help electron microscope, I observed feather-shaped lower bainite and needle-shaped high bainite. All these phenomena fully demonstrate the amazing nature of this discipline.
During my junior year I did an internship at Rizhao Iron and Steel Works, where I gained practical experience in ingot casting, foundry techniques, blast furnace extraction, and electrolytic extraction. As I learnt the intricacies of removing impurities such as sulfur, phosphorus and excess carbon from raw iron and adding alloying elements such as manganese, nickel, chromium and vanadium to create the desired properties, I constantly drew the analogy between cooking and steelmaking. We make primary, secondary and HIsarna steelmaking processes more interesting in very much the same way we try to spice up our cooking recipes with all kinds of ingredients; certainly we can fine-tune the heating and cooling processes just as we monitor our cooking temperature for the desired result. I thought steelmaking is eminently suited to women. Which is not to it is not suited to men. I am not suggesting or trying to stereotype women as fine cooks in the kitchen; in fact, some of the best cooks I have seen on televised Iron Chef competitions are men. What I am saying is that even Steelmaking is certainly a field that calls for creativity. And, when it comes to creativity, women have much to bring to the table.
I was a member of a project team that studied a new automatic steel-teeming system with an electromagnetic induction coil. The new system uses Fe-C alloy to replace traditional stuffing, and applies the electromagnetic induction to heat the alloy, which realizes the automatic tapping. Consequently, the system increases the pouring rate and improves the purity of molten steel, being meaningful in practice. During the experiment, after looking up relative information and contacting actual manufacturers, I finally found an alloy material which could resist high temperatures and so I applied for a patent. Meanwhile, while dealing with joint parts, our group associated it with real life and took the way fire hydrants link together as our model. At last, we got satisfactory results.
Both the United States and China have made significant strides in providing equal opportunity for women. The differences are not very great in this area. For me, as an aspiring material scientist, the differences lie in the American tradition of excellence and the level of development in materials science research. There, extensive availability and use of sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment provide students and researchers the tools necessary for high-resolution examination of compositions, structures and the defects of materials. I am naturally drawn to intellectually challenging environments where the worlds’ best and brightest men and women congregate to compare notes, to explore and drive the creation of new products and even new industries and to lead in the advancement of science and technology.
With influential faculty and abundant resources, Carnegie Mellon University is my top choice. I am specifically interested in the realm of microstructural science. The goal of this program is to understand the origins of the quantifiable characteristics of polycrystals and soft materials that arise during processes, to develop strategies for influencing these characteristics, and to define microstructural metrics that can be directly related to macroscopic properties and performance. I hope I have the opportunity to work together with your eminent faculty. I believe that my dream to devote myself to the study of materials can be realized with the help of your graduate training program.