2018 Distinguished Merit Awardee: Dr. Kenneth W. Hang
Kenneth Hang, B.S. ’66; Ph.D. ’70: The satisfaction of success through collaboration
by Ananya Sen
Dr. Kenneth Hang’s love for collaborative research started when he was a Teaching Assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His experience taught him the importance of working with people from diverse backgrounds who could bring unique perspectives to a problem. This collaborative spirit has enabled him to build a productive career that includes being an author or co-author of 113 US patents and 30 publications. His accomplishments have earned him the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Material Science & Engineering at UIUC.
Hang earned a B.S. (1966) and a Ph.D. (1970) from UIUC in Ceramic Engineering. “When I was applying for college, my mother and I went over the syllabi of different engineering curricula to check the prerequisitesthat were required. I wanted a good balance of chemistry, physics, and math. When my mother pointed out that ceramic engineeringwas a good fit, I agreed,” said Hang.
Although Hang enjoyed his time at the university, he faced considerable difficulties in the beginning. He was used to college-level chemistry courses in high school but had underestimated the detail-oriented college exams. “I had to recalibrate my learning approach. It was challenging, but in hindsight, going through that period shaped my problem-solving ability,” said Hang. “My belief in critical thinking and constant self-evaluation has stemmed from the failures I faced during my initial college years.”
After graduating in 1970, Hang joined RCA Labs in Princeton, as atechnical staff member, and was promoted in 1983 to a senior member. He specialized in glass research, materials synthesis, and materials characterizations. “Coming from a ceramics background, working for an electrical company like RCA broadened my understanding.” said Hang. “RCA was also a perfect fit because it met my interests and capability. I would run preliminary experiments in projects I was interested in and use the results to convince the management to purse a particular direction.”
In 1988,Hang joined the electronics department in DuPont where he stayed till his retirement in 2016. In 2005, he was promoted to “Research Fellow.” One of his biggest accomplishments at DuPont includes developing glass materials for novel conductor formulations for the Solar Cell Industries. This work has led to numerous patents and awards including the DuPont Bolton/Carothers Innovative Science Award in 2012, the DuPont Electronics and Communications 2013 Patent of the Year, and the American Chemical Society Award in 2018.
“I had a successful career at RCA and DuPont because of the experience I gained at UIUC. I was fortunate to have a good support system of people who helped me realize where my interests were. I was able to take advanced courses and help the professors set up labs. I also learned how to collaborate with physicists, chemists, and electrical engineers, which taught me much more than I could have learned on my own.”
“My advice to students would be to embrace failure because it teaches you how to reassess the problem. Early successes are seldom helpful because most situations require hard work, attention to detail, and constant self-evaluation,” said Hang. “It is also important to be aware of where your strengths and interests lie so that you can contribute to your work in a meaningful way. The satisfaction of accomplishing something is key to personal motivation and self-confidence.”