Having a fascination with how things work is a common trait in all great engineers. So is the willingness to fail and continue trying. As a child, ISE professor CS Nam displayed a passion for both. “When I was a child, I was always fascinated with building things and also taking something like the family’s clock or a toy robot apart to see how they work,” recalled Nam. “Sometimes I could assemble them, but most of the time I failed to put them back together.” But with each failure, he learned a little bit more. This thirst for knowledge drove him to study industrial engineering in college.
While in college, Nam discovered that he had an interest in how humans interact with machines. He wanted to use this knowledge to improve his designs. “While I was studying industrial engineering at college,” Nam shared, “I became interested in how humans interact with machines at behavioral, cognitive and neural levels and products and how those systems should be designed to be compatible with humans’ abilities and limitations.”
After expressing his desire to explore this field to his advisor, Nam enrolled at the State University of New York at Buffalo to pursue his master’s degree. He didn’t stop at a master’s degree, though. After finishing at Buffalo, he continued his education at Virginia Tech, getting a Ph.D. in industrial engineering.
Nam didn’t want to keep everything he had learned to himself, though. With his Ph.D., he could finally realize his lifelong dream of teaching. Nam chose NC State to fulfill this dream, attracted by the outstanding work and reputation of NC State, ISE, and the human-systems engineering program. He also wanted to put his knowledge to use by enhancing scholarship and research. Nam knew that he could bring new dimensions to the department, such as neuroscientific principles and approaches.
Today, Nam teaches and performs research in the areas of Neurally Inspired Human-Systems Engineering and building human brain simulations. Through his research, Nam is working on helping vegetative patients communicate with the outside world. He encourages students with an interest in his research to visit the Brain-Computer Interface and Neuroergonomics Lab and discover more about his work.
Nam has come a long way from his childhood of disassembling toys. He is helping those in need, teaching the next generation of engineers, and enjoying many more successes and even continuing to learn from occasional failures.