My Story

Hi, I’m May. I was born in China, in a small city near Shanghai called Ningbo. My full name is Zhiting Mei, which pictures the plum blossom and herbs blooming on an island. People rarely asked about its meaning, but this name described my childhood precisely: I cared only about things that interested me – reading, painting, playing piano, and figure staking. I lived on my own island.

When physics entered my world when I was 14, I fell in love with it and started wondering why the world works like it does. I left my island and sailed on the ocean of knowledge, but the floating theories in physics could no longer satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to know how theories lead to application, how technologies are created, and how they enter the market to impact people’s lives. So, I sailed across the Pacific Ocean to Duke, a place where interdisciplinary studies are encouraged, where I get to combine all my interests and comfortably explore the unknowns.

“Engineering is just 10 years behind theoretical physics.” A professor told me during my freshman year. His answer helped me decide to double major in physics and mechanical engineering, since theories and applications could be more powerful when combined – theories guide applications, and applications test and utilize theories. In addition, I chose to pursue the innovation and entrepreneurship certificate with the technology and design pathway. The I&E coursework ties my interests in designing and creating, and serves as an outlet for my innovative products, which lies in every experience I have as a scientist and engineer.

I’ve never stopped asking “why”, even when there’s no available answer anymore. For instance, why is there more matter than antimatter in the universe? I became interested in exploring the elusive neutrinos that potentially hold the secret key to this question, and joined the Duke Neutrino and Cosmology group last year. Now working as a part of the SNEWS (Supernova Early Warning System) collaboration, I’ve been developing a system that uses neutrinos to forbode supernova bursts. Since neutrinos can be detected hours earlier than traditional photon signals, they could enable scientists to prepare for a supernova event. My work focuses on triangulation methods that points to the direction of the supernova, and I’ve been applying the data analysis, plotting, and simulation skills to write a program that outputs skymaps of supernova positions.

Exploring the “why’s” alone was not enough, and I wanted to learn “how” to create. As one of the two co-leads for the wheels subsystem for Duke Motorsports team, I enjoy finding out how to build a race car. Over the past months, we tweaked the design to the 3D model for the wheels, performed fine element analysis on components, and machined parts with the water jet cutter, the mill, and the lathe. Seeing the simulations guiding the design, and the car coming together as modeled, I further solidified my belief in that theory and application do not exist in isolation.

Aside from the two innovative journeys in research and development, I interned at TechTown Detroit last summer. TechTown is a non-profit incubator and accelerator that helps tech startups and local businesses launch and grow. I worked as a peer mentor for TechTown’s Launch Detroit program, where I met with a lot of student entrepreneurs interested in changing the world with technology. Their passion and courage inspired me to seek opportunities and identify myself as a tech founder. I also worked on analyzing TechTown’s various programs and how they could be combined dynamically to offer the best services. Over the summer, I interviewed more than 20 program directors and participants, gaining deep insights in the entrepreneurial world.

I aspire to shorten that 10-year gap between physics and engineering, and seek to achieve it by doing research and development, and eventually starting a new venture in the future. I hope that throughout my life, I would be able to add on to the knowledge and technology human beings possess, and I hope to improve people’s lives through my contributions.