UTA Magazine
At Play: Jung-Chih 'J.C.' Chiao
Paper art, children's books help keep professor balanced

At Play

A beaver with a cockeyed smile inhabits J.C. Chiao's office on the fifth floor of Nedderman Hall. The small stuffed animal was the inspiration for his first children's book, Mr. Bean and his Adventure.

"The moral of the story is that it is what's inside that's important," says Dr. Chiao, who wrote the book for his niece shortly after she was born in 1997. "The beaver was so concerned with his crooked teeth that he forgot to do the important things like building a dam."

Writing children's literature is one of two Chiao pastimes not typically pursued by electrical engineering professors. The other: creating three-dimensional sculptures out of paper.

J.C. Chiao
In his spare time, electrical engineering Associate Professor J.C. Chiao carves intricate paper sculptures that he gives to family and friends.

A junior high school teacher introduced Chiao to the art of paper cutting, and a former colleague and artist at Chorum Technologies in Richardson helped hone his skills.

He begins by drawing a pattern. Then he uses scissors, an Exacto knife and a surgical knife to make intricate cuts. He keeps tweezers handy to pick up the tiny pieces of paper he's snipped and, for his more elaborate works, to reattach them with glue to the main sculpture.

Three of his creations--a dragon, a whale and a lion--hang in frames on his office walls. Rather than sell his works, he gives them to friends, some as far away as Japan and Russia. But paper sculpting can be lucrative for professional artists, who often command several thousand dollars for one piece.

Chiao's next projects, still in the conceptual stages, will use only white paper and feature a man practicing Tai Chi and a woman dancing in ancient Chinese clothes. Both could take several days.

"If one cut is wrong, you must redo the whole thing," he says.

Despite its tedious nature, designing paper sculptures is therapeutic for Chiao. "It's like a medicine for me," says the 38-year-old associate professor and Taiwan native. "It's very soothing and relaxing."

But, he admits, it's not always about the art. Sometimes his creative talents help further his research on micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS). He has built paper models to make sure the miniature components--usually smaller than the diameter of a human hair--move the way they should.

An electrical engineering faculty member since 2002, Chiao has received two patents for his MEMS-related research, and more than a dozen others are pending. He focuses on finding applications for the tiny robots, including better ways to diagnose Parkinson's disease and breast, prostate and brain cancers.

When he needs a creative outlet, it's back to making paper sculptures--and writing.

His 7-year-old niece now has a sister, so he felt obliged to write another book. The story chronicles the adventures of his black cat, Misha, who becomes invisible in the dark and plays tricks on him. Chiao plans to illustrate the book with photographs of his sculptures.

But he's in no hurry.

"This is the kind of thing I like to do without pressure, not like my research and technical publications. I don't really care if the book gets published. If it's just for my nieces, that's good enough."

— Mark Permenter

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