Hong Liang M.S. ’87 Ph.D. ’92 Rises to the Challenge

Graduating with two degrees from Stevens, Hong Liang M.S. Ph.D. reflects on a career filled with challenges and excitement.

When applying to graduate school, Liang began searching for a university that would provide high-level training. A relative, who was a Princeton professor, suggested Stevens, particularly for its prominence in surface science research.

On her first visit to Castle Point, Liang was impressed. “The view is gorgeous,” she says. “It sparks the imagination and encourages creativity. Stevens is a very exciting place to pursue an education.”

Liang also appreciated Stevens’ rigorous curriculum and emphasis on critical thinking and hands-on problem-solving. “My Stevens professors and my thesis advisor Dr. Traugott Fischer encouraged me to have an open mind, look at the task at hand and think independently,” she says. “Stevens prepared me for what came next.”

After completing her Ph.D. in materials science, Liang began her career with a postdoc at Dr. Said Jahanmir’s group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. After a brief tenure in industry, she started her faculty career at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

“Alaska had many unique challenges, from learning how to deal with the cold to obtaining funding to support research,” Liang notes. She enjoyed cross-country skiing on the campus’ seven-mile trails while working with students to understand ice friction. “It’s a steep learning experience in survival skills, yet the natural beauty, wild animals and the northern lights always struck me and still do to this day,” she says.

Six years later, in 2004, Liang joined the faculty of Texas A&M University, continuing her research in surface science and tribology, manufacturing and materials. At a large research university, she has the opportunity to collaborate and work with students from various disciplines.

The difference in class sizes brings new challenges. “Teaching at Texas A&M poses a different set of challenges than at UAF and Stevens,” she notes. “Because of Stevens’ size, it is easy to get to know all the students from day one. The faculty in my current department spans an entire building. It is difficult to interact with all of them daily. On the other hand, there are so many opportunities to collaborate in different ways.”

“I had to learn how to teach effectively in large class settings,” Liang continues. “It is often necessary to break classes into teams for smaller projects, so that students have opportunities for interactions and hands-on learning.”

Liang complements her teaching and research with professional service. In May, she started her one-year term as president of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE). She is an editor-in-chief for Tribology International and serves as associate editor for other journals. She is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and STLE. In 2018-19, Liang was named ASME Swanson Fellow and served as the assistant director for research partnerships for the National Office of Advanced Manufacturing at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In February 2021, Liang joined the External Advisory Board of Stevens’ Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “Stevens provided me with top-tier education and research experience,” she says. “In addition, living so close to New York City was an education in itself. It was exciting, and it prepared me mentally and culturally to take risks and to toughen up. I want to do what I can to help today’s students enjoy the same benefits from attending Stevens.”

She said that visiting the Stevens campus after 30 years was surreal. “Many of my beloved professors remain active as leading researchers,” Liang says. “The campus view is still gorgeous and imaginative. The change is in the students who will make a difference for the future.”