A Little Magic Goes a Long Way

Author: Barbara Leonard
Performance art pays off professionally

When one thinks of an electrical engineer, magic and illusion might not be the first thing to come to mind. For one recent ECE graduate, art and science come together naturally. Meet Chad Lau (BSEE ’04, MSBME ’06, PhD EE ’10), an electrical engineer with a research focus in orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) and a seasoned magician.

Chad Lau

Lau recently went to work for Harris Corp. in Melbourne, Fla., working on research and development. At the time this article was written, his role was still being fleshed out. His plans are to work on R & D for various government grants relating to wireless communications. He will likely work on health care applications as well, as Harris and other defense contractors are beginning to focus on this area.

Lau credits his magic and illusion interests with getting him initially noticed by Harris during an ECE-sponsored career fair. He recounts his trepidation over entering the job market during such troubled economic times. “I knew I would be in direct competition with many other bright students with identical or better credentials,” he says. “I needed a way to set myself apart, so I decided to really stress my love of presenting, which comes from my favorite hobby, magic.”

The “magic” worked. At the fair, Harris showed interest in Lau for his technical field of wireless communications as well as his nontechnical field, magic. “The rep asked me to come to Harris’ booth during the Industrial Roundtable the following day, and asked me to bring a magic trick.” An interview was not far behind, followed by an on-site visit with the company.

“I would love to put my Purdue education to work on research and development of either communications or health care-related products.”
– Chad Lau

For Lau, magic is not just about sleight-of-hand and entertainment. “I have been performing magic for most of my life and I credit those performances for giving me the ability to present and to be personable,” he says. “Since personal skills can be just as important as technical skills in the workplace, I really stressed the magic and love of presenting in my resume.”

For almost as long as he’s been performing magic tricks, Lau has been interested in engineering. He knew when he was 7 years old that he wanted to attend Purdue, a running joke his mother reminds him of still today. Inspired by parents who each work in technical fields, Lau was encouraged toward engineering from an early age.

By the time he completed his PhD in the spring, Lau’s dream of attending Purdue had reaped numerous rewards, including the opportunity to work alongside some of ECE’s top faculty members.

Chad Lau (fourth from left) participates in a juggling routine at Duncan Hall in Lafayette.

“One of the greatest things I learned from Purdue ECE faculty is that the best way to achieve a high level of productivity is by achieving a high morale,” he says.

He credits professors Michael Zoltowski, whom he admires for the friendly rapport he built with students, industry leaders, and grant collaborators alike; and Thomas Talavage, an inspiring teacher who works hard “not only on his research, but who also spends a great deal of time building good relationships with his graduate students so that the group dynamic stays positive,” Lau recalls.

“I was also very inspired by our department head, Ragu Balakrishnan (now school head),” Lau recalls. “He devotes a lot of energy to fostering a welcoming atmosphere, including literally having an open-door policy so he can be very accessible to everyone. This makes us feel like we are more than students, faculty, or staff; we are truly part of a community.”

“Since personal skills can be just as important as technical skills in the workplace, I really stressed the magic and love of presenting in my resume.”

Lau’s interest in magic has certainly helped set him apart from his colleagues. A member of the University’s Juggling and Unicycle Club for most of his 10 years at Purdue, Lau met many of his closest friends in the club and gained valuable life skills — besides how to ride a unicycle. A devotee of David Copperfield since childhood, Lau admired his confidence and great stage presence, which he knew could be parlayed into technical skills important in his career. “Joining the club is where I truly learned what it takes to have stage presence, how to present, and finally to manage my fear of presenting before audiences,” he says.

Combining the light-hearted side of magic with a dedication to become an engineer seems to have come naturally for Lau. “I would love to put my Purdue education to work on research and development of either communications or health carerelated products,” he says. “I also hope to use the presentation skills that I learned through performing to either pitch new technologies to funding agencies or to teach ... of course, my presentations will likely include magic.”