2012 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
Ping Fu (MS '90) was the co-founder and CEO of Geomagic, a company whose innovative software tools fundamentally changed the way a myriad of products are designed and manufactured worldwide. Engineers, designers, and artists have used Geomagic software for things ranging from streamlining the manufacture of toy dollhouses, transforming the hearing aid and dental device industries, to guaranteeing the safety of the Space Shuttle Discovery, and recreating engine manifolds for a NASCAR racing team.
The innovation behind Geomagic’s technology is the rapid creation of non-uniform rational B-splines on point cloud data, which is key to digitally processing an object—a task that used to take a designer weeks to complete but can now be done in just minutes. Fu is the co-inventor on five of the patents behind this technology.
Before starting Geomagic in 1997, Fu was the director of visualization at NCSA, the University of Illinois supercomputing center, where she supervised work on Mosaic, the world’s first practical web browser. Her team also developed new geometry algorithms that enabled the morphing special effects for the robot villain in the movie Terminator 2.
In 2005, Inc. Magazine presented Fu with its Entrepreneur of the Year award. Among her more recent awards, she was recognized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as an Outstanding American By Choice. Besides her CEO role at Geomagic, Ping serves on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the White House, she is a member of the National Council on Women in Technology, and on the board of directors at the Long Now Foundation.
Fu grew up in China and endured terrible hardships during the Cultural Revolution. As a young adult, she studied journalism and wrote an investigative article about how China’s one-child policy was prompting parents to kill their baby girls. The story landed her in prison, though she was eventually ordered to leave China and told never to return. She ended up in the United States, where she earned a degree in computer science at University of California at San Diego before enrolling in the graduate CS program at Illinois.
Ping’s incredible story of personal and business resilience “Bend Not Break” was published by Penguin in December 2012. In early 2013, it was announced that Geomagic had been acquired by 3D Systems, with Fu appointed as chief strategy officer.