NSF Graduate Research Fellow Award winner - Sheryl Chau

Sheryl Chau

Sheryl Suet Ying Chau is a doctoral student pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, in the College of Engineering.  Chau said she has always been interested in understanding human behaviors, cognition, and especially how people interact with machines and devices in an increasingly technological world.  

“I started elementary school in Hong Kong, where every class and assignment was a competition,” Chau said.  “I never had the chance to dream about my future career because I was always busy trying to keep up with the rest of the students.  When I moved to the United States with my family in the eighth grade, I thought the education system was bizarre.  Instead of competing against each other, students in the U.S. were given a lot of hands-on experience and encouragement to try new ideas and event to turn their failures into learning experiences.  As I transitioned between these two distinct educational systems, I became eager to engage in these new opportunities and look for alternative perspectives and experiences.”  

Chau’s current research involves a body-machine interface for patients with severe motor impairment.  The goal of this research is to design an interface for patients with very limited mobility to operate a robotic arm to perform certain daily tasks, such as opening a door and drinking from a cup.  

“I have always been interested in human-robot interaction,” Chau said.  “I believe that one of the main purposes of robots is to assist humans to do things with ease.  I applied to graduate school with the hope of pursuing research in this field.  Upon coming to MSU, my adviser introduced me to this new project he was planning to start, which involves designing a body-machine interface for a local child who was born without limbs.  I was immediately interested because making robots to help people accomplish something they themselves cannot do was what I found most intriguing and meaningful.” 

She said she hopes her research will benefit people directly either for educational purposes or for applications.  Chau also said she hopes that what she is doing will encourage more young people, especially women, to engage in STEM research.  

“In the future, I would like to work either in the industry, or in a national laboratory, as a research scientist and continue to work for the well-being of society,” Chau said.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship award consists of a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees.  Chau said she plans to use this award to fund continue advancing her research and degree at MSU, as well as take advantage of the professional development opportunities provided by the fellowship.

“Receiving this award means a lot to me personally,” Chau said.  “Many times I feel insecure about my competence to do what I am doing.  This fellowship helps me believe in myself more and increase my confidence, knowing that I was recognized by the NSF.”