Jamie Paik

Jamie Paik
Engineering - January 2014
An Interview with UBC Alumni, Jaimie Paik, the founding director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL

BASc ‘02
Mechanical Engineering
Assistant Professor and Founding Director Of The Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (Rrl) - École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne (EPFL)

Jamie Paik received her B.A.Sc. from UBC in 2002, majoring in both Mechanical and Electro-Mechanical Design Engineering. She obtained her Ph.D. from Seoul National University in South Korea before completing post-docs at both the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris and Harvard University. She currently lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she is an Assistant Professor and the founding director of the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL) at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and a member of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) robotics group.

In the RRL, Jamie’s multi-disciplinary team focuses on leveraging expertise in multi-material fabrication and smart material actuations to experiment in the emerging field of soft robotics. Her latest robots include a self-morphing Robogami (robotic orgami) that transforms its planar shape to 2D or 3D by folding in predefined patterns and sequences, just like the paper art, origami. In October 2013, robohub.org named Jamie one of “25 women in robotics you need to know about."

We recently caught up with this rising star of robotics, and she was kind enough to share some of her insights and experiences with the Applied Science community.

Q: What is the best part of your current job / the work that you do?

What I find most fulfilling about my work is the fact that I research technologies that could positively impact our everyday lives. Also, I really enjoy having the freedom to define both the challenges and solutions of my work.

Q: If your work had a slogan, what would it be?

There is no failed experiment; every result only leads to a solution.

Q: What is a fact about your work that people might find surprising?

I think people would be surprised to know how many different domains of engineering are involved in building my robots. In my lab, we require expertise in mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering. As a classically trained mechanical engineer, I believe in the fundamental value of building mechanisms. However, I also believe that in order for us to push the limits of a prototype’s physical properties and to analyze its possibilities, it is imperative for us to be aware of the state-of-art research in other engineering disciplines.

Q: Do you have a personal hero, either alive or deceased? If so, who are / were they?

My parents are my heroes. They have always encouraged me to just keep trying my very best without fearing the consequences. “Just Do It” has always been the slogan of the Paik family…maybe even before it made it to Nike.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement in life so far (personal, professional, or both)?

My greatest achievement so far is that I have learned to overcome my fear of challenges and failures, no matter how fast, slow, small or big they may be.

Q: What is one piece of technology that you couldn¹t live without, and why?

I can’t live without my microwave. I am blessed to be part of the last generation of tech geeks who fully experienced and were exposed to both ends of the VCR / DVD, beeper / smartphone, cassette / cloud, and penpals / facebook technologies. This means that, theoretically, I should be able to live without most of the technology which I currently rely on in both my working and personal lives. However, I never was a great cook!

Q: What was your most memorable experience during your time at UBC, inside the classroom or outside?

During my Co-op work term, I was hired by Ballard Power Systems as a summer engineering student. I was sent to work for a Daimler-Chrysler subsidiary in Werdohl, Germany, where I developed GUIs for CAN bus data acquisition during on-road real-time engine tests. I realized then that my UBC education provided the foundation necessary to study and develop skills that I had not learned in the classroom. This job placement helped me to learn and develop those new skills. In Werdohl, a town of 20,000, I was also a rarity – a non-European student who worked in the town and who joined the local marathon club. In that club, I met the town mayor, who was also the member, and I even ended up being on the front cover on a Saturday edition of the local newspaper. That work term turned out to be a fantastic life experience for me.

Q: What was your “light bulb moment” in engineering? In other words, what made you realize that engineering was your chosen profession?

I am still waiting for that definitive moment. However, I am constantly challenged and never bored with my work. For someone who cannot finish a 100-piece puzzle, this must mean something.

Q: What was your favourite thing to do on campus as a UBC student?

I can’t think of just one thing. I would say that my favourite activities included attending performances in the Chan Center, outings to Jericho beach, and my involvement in the Ceramics Club. 

Q: What are the top three things that you would recommend current engineering students do before they graduate?

First and foremost, I recommend that students pursue co-op work terms. As a student, I never had a real summer vacation because I always took co-op positions, but the experiences that I gained made it a worthwhile investment. Second, I would suggest that they join one of the many engineering competition teams at UBC. Participation in these teams involves a lot of work, but student team members develop an engineering intuition that cannot be taught in class, but that will be asked of them by their employers after graduation. My final recommendation is to be aware of “skipped-chapter karma.” For a particular course, not every chapter in the textbook will be covered in the syllabus or the final exam. However, students should not skip reading those other chapters because the information that they contain will undoubtedly be asked of them by their first three bosses, and they will have to dig up their old textbook again.