Mable Fok, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, introduces students to state-of-the-art technologies as well as basic knowledge to lay the foundation for breakthroughs in research.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received my bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Prior to joining UGA, I had four years of postdoctoral training at Princeton University. Currently, I am an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, focusing on both electrical engineering and computer system engineering. I am the principal investigator of Lightwave and Microwave Photonics Research Laboratory (WAVE Lab). My lab is well equipped to support various kinds of photonics and radio frequency research.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2012. The opportunity provided by the newly established College of Engineering, the available resources and support at UGA, as well as the exciting research attracted me the most. I also love Athens, and it has been great for my family.
What are your favorite courses and why?
This is a hard question because each of the courses I teach is unique. The First-Year Odyssey seminar “Fiber Optics and You” is the most interesting one because the students are freshmen who are not engineering majors. So I try to use layman’s terms, and students are amazed to learn how much fiber optics affects their daily lives. The most enjoyable class is “Fundamentals of Logic Design.” I am able to get in touch with young engineering students and introduce to them how to use logic design for solving problems and formulating thoughts. The most exciting class is “Principles of Lasers and Photonics,” a senior course closely related to my research, which gives me the opportunity to talk about topics that I am very excited about. I bring students to my research lab to learn about state-of-the-art technologies and to visualize the unique research setting of a photonics lab.
What interests you about your field?
I am working on photonics research for interdisciplinary applications. Photonics has a lot of unique characteristics that are very different from electronics. Therefore, photonics can accomplish tasks that electronics cannot, which opens up a wide range of exciting opportunities—from wireless communications and biomedical engineering to civil engineering, to name a few examples. Currently, our main focus is to develop emerging technologies to tackle challenges in dynamic and wideband radio frequency (wireless) system through the use of both photonic technologies and neuromorphic algorithms. It is exciting to understand various types of neuromorphic algorithms and to mimic them with photonic phenomena.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Some highlights over the last few years at UGA include the first National Science Foundation grant I’ve received as the sole principal investigator—a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award—as well the reporting of our research in technical magazines and newsletters. The most fulfilling accomplishment for me is that my students were awarded four research and academic awards in a single year! I’m so proud of them.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
Performing research helps me understand the importance of having a good foundation of basic knowledge and how the basic knowledge we learn in classes can lead to breakthroughs in research. Teaching reminds me to not just be a researcher, but also to try my best to be an educator who helps and guides students on their academic path.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Besides gaining the knowledge that I teach in classes, I would like them to gain the ability to learn. Sooner or later, students will have to leave the classroom and dive into our fast-changing society. Self-learning is the most important lifelong skill that students should acquire before graduating from the classroom.
Describe your ideal student.
Each student is unique, and they have diverse strengths and characters. However, no matter if you are a student with good interpersonal skills, a student with strong technical background or a solo person, the two most important characteristics to me are self-motivation and a good work ethic.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I like my research lab in Boyd a lot; it is like a home that I built. My lab also has very good view of the campus, especially in the fall. My favorite thing to do on campus is to chat with my students not only about research, but also to know their lives.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I like to spend time with my kids and my husband, enjoying the moments when we are together, doing projects together or just snuggling up. I also love traveling and taking my kids to see the world.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I love to provide research opportunities to K-12 students; it is very enjoyable to work with them and see how they relate what they have learned in class to our research. I also have been the judge for the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair; it is interesting to see how new generations pick a project that they care about, dig up information from books and the Internet, use “equipment” that they use every day—like the kitchen oven or a bike—and build a product that actually works!
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I like any book that talks about facts and discusses how things work, like an encyclopedia. I am amazed by how nature or humans “make” things work out perfectly.
My husband and I love watching movies together—thanks to Netflix. But I do not like to pick which movie to watch; I will just watch a movie without even knowing the name of it. Overall, I like action movies the most.
Proudest moment at UGA?
My research lab (my students and myself) received four research and academic awards in a year. It is very satisfying to see our hard work recognized by various organizations. Second on the list was seeing two of my very first graduate students earn their degrees—seeing them growing up, taking off and getting careers that they like.