Benjamin Tee, (MS '07, PhD '13), is listed in the MIT Technology Review's 35 Innovators Under 35, a prestigious listing of exceptionally talented technologists whose work has great potential to transform the world. He won the award for his work in the field of electronic sensor skins. During his PhD career, Benjamin took and pursued a multi-disciplinary approach to his research. He applied his excellent training by the Electrical Engineering department to material science, chemistry and mechanical engineering by working with Prof. Zhenan Bao (Chemical Engineering) to create new skin-like sensors made from unconventional soft materials such as plastic. He created several platform technologies in force sensing that have broad applications, from medical devices to consumer devices.
"The courses taught by the top-notch faculty in the EE department were crucial to my development as a scientist and electrical engineer. They provided me with the strong grounding to reach out to other disciplines that allowed fruitful collaborations to emerge."
How did you develop an interest in electrical engineering?
As a kid, I loved to break things. I was about ten years old when my mother bought me my first computer. Back then, it was a running at 8Mhz(!). That's at least a hundred times slower than today's computer. Of course I was so excited that I promptly proceeded to open it up and the rainbow colored wires captivated me. I didn't know how electricity could be used to build something as useful as a computer. I thought to myself, "Wow, if only I knew how to build this and how it works." That is what started me onto a path of electrical engineering.
Why did you choose Stanford Electrical Engineering?
I heard of all these stories of Stanford electrical engineers building cool stuff – a famous example being Larry Page and Sergei Brin – I wanted to be part of the action! And Stanford, with its roots in the creation of Silicon Valley, played an important factor with my decision to choose Stanford. I was not disappointed when I came here. I knew I wanted to work on multi-disciplinary innovations and the strong collaborative culture on campus was perfect for that.
How has your education helped shape your career?
The Stanford EE curriculum provides very solid grounding of fundamentals and also the breadth to explore beyond traditional devices. I think being surrounded by ultra-achiever peers, that can also be friends, and who encourage you to stay on the path of becoming an inventor and innovator. Very often, crazy ideas that can make a difference to humanity get swept under the carpet because the peer support wasn't there. I'm fortunate that didn't happen to me at Stanford.
What advice would you give to current EE students?
Stanford has an amazing diversity of knowledge beyond just EE. Spend some time exploring classes beyond engineering, such as classes in the dschool and even business school. I believe you would quickly find that they add a lot of value to you as you develop your career, especially after you graduate.