Faculty Spotlight: Binil Starly

Binil Starly is the James T. Ryan Professor who joined NC State University in August 2013. His laboratory is working on technologies that merge the digital and the physical world and advance manufacturing processes. 

It seems to be standard practice for engineers to have started down the road towards a career in engineering while at a young age. We have all heard the stories of children breaking toys to see how they work and then trying to put them back together again. ISE professor Binil Starly was no different. But, the TV also played a role in him becoming an engineer. Shows from the 1980s like Voltron, Knight Rider and Thunderbirds all featured high-tech machines that captured Starly’s imagination. When he was 15, Starly got a machine of his own, a computer with the brand new Windows 95 operating system. Suddenly, he was writing computer programs himself. These interests in machines and programming led him to engineering.

While in the senior year of his undergraduate degree, Starly’s father asked him to apply to Drexel University. Although Starly wanted to go straight into industry research and development, he took his father’s advice. “I was half-hearted in wanting it myself,” said Starly. “But I still applied based on my dad’s advice.” He took the GRE, sent in an application and then pushed it all to the back of his mind.

Right after graduation, Starly found what he had been looking for, a job as a software engineer in the financial industry. “The promised pay was too good to decline,” recalled Starly. But a week later, he received admission to Drexel. Even with an exciting and lucrative career ahead of him, Starly’s curiosity for learning won out, and he changed course from working in finance to attending graduate school. Surprisingly, he loved the research topic during his master’s program so much that he continued into the Ph.D. program. “When I stepped into graduate school, I never planned to come out of it with a Ph.D. degree,” shared Starly.

Starly had never planned to be a professor. Despite tutoring and teaching other students since high school, he never seriously thought about pursuing an academic career. The idea of working in industry research and development was just too enticing to pass up. However, as he neared graduation, his advisor asked him to consider jobs in academia as well as industry research. “He said that I was really good at teaching and that I had the patience and temperament to be in academia,” recalled Starly. Because, as an academic, he could still work in industry while having the freedom to pursue his research interests, Starly took his advisor’s advice. 

Starly’s journey to NC State began when he met ISE professor Yuan-Shin Lee who was visiting Drexel. “He asked me to apply to NC State for an upcoming position to open in 2006,” said Starly. After researching the NC State’s campus, including reading the vision document for Centennial Campus, Starly loved the idea of coming to NC State. He wanted to take Lee’s advice, but unfortunately, the job announcement came too late. “By then, I had accepted an offer from the University of Oklahoma,” he explained. But that would not be the last time Starly would get his chance to come to NC State.

Starly saw how there was a robust manufacturing-focused curriculum within the ISE Department and wanted to continue working with his longtime interest in machines. He also noticed how NC State had tremendous potential for expansion and wanted to contribute to the Department, the College and the University. 

Since joining the Department, Starly’s research has supported that expansion. “Developing intelligent machines and factories is at the core of what we do,” explained Starly. He focuses on the intersection of computing and manufacturing to transform how to design, produce and ship products to the consumer. These intelligent systems work in numerous industries like biopharmaceutical, aerospace, custom medical device and industrial goods production.

Now, Starly is in an excellent position to share what he has learned. He has always evaluated where he is every three years to be sure that whatever he is doing, he truly enjoys it and is in the right environment to succeed. “My advice is never to stop learning, gain new skills and make yourself available to gain new experiences,” shared Starly. He also believes that we should inspire others by sharing our interests. “I still watch Voltron even now, just with my son.”