Amy Hou was born in Harbin, a beautiful city in Northeast China. It is known as “Ice City,” and it holds a famous annual winter festival with snow and ice sculptures. Travelers worldwide visit the city during the festival.
Those ice sculptures aren’t in danger of melting. The winters are really cold in Harbin. There are a few days that dip below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime.
You could say Hou was born to be a scientist. Her father was an aerospace engineer. When she was a kid, her dad would take her to his company, and showed her how an airplane was built and worked.
“He let me climb up into the pilot’s seat in a garage, and then my dad and his coworkers would push the plane out of the garage,” she said. “I would put my hands high up in the air, feeling proud to ‘pilot’ the plane with my small body.”
Her mom was a doctor who specialized in cardiothoracic vascular diseases.
“I remember a few occasions around midnight in the cold winter, some security guards knocked on the door – we didn’t have a phone at the time - and asked her to help in the ER. Without any hesitation, she would wrap herself in a heavy blanket and took off in the dark. The image was imbeded in my brain with mixed feelings; respect, love, but more concern, worry and fear.”
Because of that image, Hou escaped the harsh cold weather and gave up her dream to be a doctor. She took a two-day of train down south where she went to college.
Back then, her family raised chickens for eggs and meat. One day a chicken pecked a beetle that stuck in its throat and partially blocked its airway. Hou’s mom and Hou performed emergency surgery on the chicken to remove the bug and saved its life.
Science has been big part of her family’s daily life. Working in science comes natural to Hou.
South from Harbin, she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Zhejiang University in China, and a master’s degree in chemical engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
No more freezing cold conditions for Hou. She’s lived in sunny southern California for years. Her husband Tao is a scientist too. The couple have two adult children living out of town, a dog called Loki, two guinea pigs, five fish, countless silver fish and spiders.
“I have a big happy family,” she said.
Hou is an application lab supervisor for HORIBA Scientific in Irvine, California. She is in charge of instrument evaluation with customer samples, the performance of quality control, and after-sale customer support.
“We tell prospects that when they buy a HORIBA instrument, they also get the whole applications lab’s support for free,” she said.
As for gender discrimination in education and work, Hou admits that a woman has traditionally faced different circumstances than a man.
“Women in general, spend more time raising a family,” she said. “It is challenge to balance family life and career. Eighteen years ago when I just started to work at HORIBA, I had a dream that I shipped my baby in the shipping crate overnight, and woke up in panic. Because of our special situations, we tend to be more focused, more efficient, and have more cohesion. It is a curse and a blessing.”
Amy has some advice for budding scientists.
“Science means hard work. Success is 90 percent persistence and 10 percent talent,” she said. “You will be rewarded with knowledge and to see the world at different levels. There is no short cut.’
Hou believes science can be fun. She was involved in a few very interesting, fun application projects.
“I spread cloud seeds on top of the clouds by a helicopter, and watched it rain in seconds. I worked on a chemical formula to produce glue, and it was used in cigarette plant, holding the cigarette for 5 seconds before the drying step. And I helped design a process to make chocolate with liqueur inside. It was fun.”
Her recommendation to other dreamers?
“Go pursue your dream. When you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true.”
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