Women in Science

Geomagic's Ping Fu Rises in Tech Firmament

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ping Fu survived China's Cultural Revolution and was later deported to the United States for her sensational reporting on female infanticide. Now she's one of the few women in the CEO ranks of commercially innovative technology.

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Ping Fu at work(WOMENSENEWS)--Her company's technology can help keep astronauts safe; save manufacturers millions by reducing waste; and create custom medical devices that work and fit better.

Ping Fu and Geomagic are not the household names of Steve Jobs and Apple, or Meg Whitman and eBay. But that could change.

Fu was one of the few women among the 50 CEOs who took part in a January White House forum on modernizing government. A week later, she was asked to join Michelle Obama in her box at the State of the Union address.

"It was certainly a tremendous honor to be her guest," Fu told Women's eNews in a recent phone interview. "When I received the invitation, I couldn't even really align it with reality. I said to my daughter, 'How did I get from there to here?' Really, I had to pinch myself."

Certainly it's been a most unlikely journey for a woman who was imprisoned in her native China and then thrown out of the country for reporting the killing of infant girls under China's one-child policy.

Geomagic, founded by Fu in 1997, is a private company based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., with offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. Its clients range from NASA to NASCAR drivers.

The company uses a technology called digital shape sampling and processing, DSSP, to make three-dimensional models. Numerous high-tech applications exist for this technology.

In the space shuttle program, for instance, Geomagic software can take laser-camera scans of damaged heat tiles and create 3-D models down to cracks as small as a fraction of a millimeter. Based on that, NASA engineers can decide what, if any, repairs are needed to get the shuttle and astronauts home safely.

Multiple Uses

Geomagic's software is also used to develop customized appliances for treating children with cleft palates at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield, Mass. In addition, historical preservationists use it to create images of national monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and Mt. Rushmore. In the event of damage or attack, the software could be used to repair or recreate the monuments down to the minutest detail.

"Improving the technology our government uses isn't about having the fanciest bells and whistles on our Web sites," Obama told the January technology forum. "It's about how we use the American people's hard-earned tax dollars to make government work better for them."

A headline example of making better governmental use of technology is the digitization of medical records to save money for publicly-funded health care.

Fu suggests that's just a start. She envisions the day when patients and makers of medical devices can have access to the millions of CT (computed tomography) scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) sitting in doctors' offices to create customized prosthetics, implants and other treatments that fit and function better.

Amy Millman, president of Springboard Enterprises, the Washington nonprofit that assists female entrepreneurs to gain access to capital, has worked with Fu since 2002 and was instrumental in getting her to the White House forum.

Millman said business leaders such as Fu are compelled to come up with a successful business model early in the game, since they are using investors' money.

"Entrepreneurs are on the line to produce a milestone every quarter, because it's somebody else's money at stake," said Millman. Fu managed to do that and the technology world has taken note.

"She didn't know how good she was," said Millman of Fu's abilities. "She was quiet and unassuming. She has refreshing vision. She's humble in the process and believes strongly in the culture of what she has built."

An Unexpected Path

Fu's early life could hardly predict her path to high-tech innovator.

"I did not know I would become a business woman, because when I was in China I was brainwashed that 'money was evil,'" she said.

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