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Palais Outstanding Doctoral Award continues to motivate engineering graduate students

Recent doctoral graduate Zhicheng Liu (left) receives the Palais Outstanding Doctoral Student Award from School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering Director Steve Phillips at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Spring 2016 Maroon Convocation Ceremony at Wells Fargo Arena on May 11. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

May 13, 2016

Since 2003, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering have recognized an exceptional graduate of the electrical engineering graduate program with the Palais Outstanding Doctoral Student Award.

Established with the combined generosity of emeritus professor Joseph Palais and his wife, Sandra Palais, the award is bestowed on a graduating electrical engineering doctoral student who exemplifies excellence in research and academics. To qualify, a candidate must maintain at least a 3.75 grade-point average and have at least one publication in a journal or at a conference.

“What I’ve found is that the quality of the nominated PhD students far exceeds my expectations,” said Palais. “It’s unbelievable the point at which some of these graduates are. Their work could easily be that of a professor submitting a tenure package.”

This year’s recipient, Zhicheng Liu, is no exception. Over the past seven years Liu has distinguished himself both in the classroom with a 3.93 GPA and in the lab as well, contributing to more than 10 journal publications. In 2013, he completed his first primary author publication, which included research he conducted in professor of electrical engineering Cun-Zheng Ning’s lab.

Originally from the Hebei province in China, Liu earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Peking University. He said he was drawn to ASU due to his background in working with lasers and was interested in the research happening here.

“I wanted to work with this group because I knew I could learn a lot and work with some very advanced equipment,” said Liu.

Liu currently works in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Skorpios Technologies as a senior engineer, where he’s in charge of the reliability testing of transceiver products.

“The knowledge of laser physics, the operation of testing equipment, the experience of optical simulation tools, and especially the ability of solving the problems, all of which I learned in my PhD research, help me a lot in my current career,” he said.

Thirteen doctoral students have received the award since its inception, but Palais’ contributions and impact on the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering (ECEE) extends far beyond the recipients of the award.

“I like to tell students that I’ve been at ASU long enough to remember when one of the few things to stop a class was a lack of chalk,” said Palais.

Palais’ long career with the university began in 1964, when he joined the engineering faculty. What would one day become the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering was then known as the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Palais has watched the university grow tremendously, even since his appointment as the electrical engineering graduate program chair approximately 20 years ago. When he began his career with ASU, there was almost no research ongoing, Palais recalled.

He originally conceived the award as a way to return something to the university, and naturally gravitated to the program he headed. The award grants the recipient $1,000 and a commemorative plaque presented at convocation.

“I was surprised that I received the award, but very happy to hear that I had,” said Liu. “My adviser, Dr. Cun-Zheng Ning, challenged me to apply, and I’m glad he did. I’m very appreciative to him as well as Dr. Palais, for this award encourages students to work harder and do more with our studies.”

“Each awardee is so incredible in talent, work ethic and drive, it's hard to imagine they need the push provided by this award,” said Palais.

Palais attributes the quality of the electrical engineering program’s doctoral students to the exceptional faculty in ECEE.

“Some of our professors could be at any university in the country,” he said. “Our faculty and doctoral students are really, truly top-notch.”

While the Palais Outstanding Doctoral Student Award will continue to provide support and resources for distinguished electrical engineering students well into the future, Palais hopes to see the Fulton Schools rise to become one of the top engineering schools in the nation.

“I’d be happy if this award contributes to that, even if it was in a small way,” Palais said.

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