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I live near Salt Lake City, Utah, with my family and dog, The Squeaker.

My family is ethnic Chinese, but I was born in Cambodia. When I was 6-years old, my family and I fled the country of Cambodia.  After crossing the border we took shelter in a ‘friendly’ refugee camp in Thailand.  We were running from the Khmer Rouge.  My memory of the events between 1975 and 1979 are fragmented, but I do remember being mostly hungry.  After spending nearly six months in a refugee camp, we were luckily sponsored into the United States by our host family, the Borups. We first settled in the small town of Tremonton in northern Utah.  It feels like we won the lottery and my family and I are grateful to the Borup family for giving us an opportunity to start a new life!

I discovered at a very young age that I enjoyed building and making things. I also enjoyed art, but eventually I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, obtaining the BS and MS degrees, and then I earned the Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.  I became fascinated with dynamic systems, control theory, and robotics.

I am very passionate only about a handful of things: learning and making things, mountains, photography, and family.  My ancestors probably never saw snow, but in my free time I design and make snow skis out of my garage.  I use them to access the mountains near and far from my home. I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the mountains across the U.S. and abroad, including Canada, South America, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, France, China, Austria, and Norway. Between October 2003 and June 2015, I skied at least once a month, 12 months out of the year (turns-all-year!) and it amounted to many consecutive months of skiing.  Now with other priorities and interests fighting for attention, I’ve scaled back just a bit, but I still ski often, especially with my kids and wife.

I am one of the co-founders of, an online forum and web site dedicated to home-built snow skis.

I spend most of my time doing research and teaching at the University of Utah.  Before the University of Utah, I spent some time at the University of Nevada, Reno doing the same.  Most of my work focuses on control systems and robotics, as well as modeling and control of active materials, materials that respond to stimuli such as electrical signals, with application in nanotechnology, robotics, and intelligent systems.  Please visit my research lab, the DARC Lab, for more details.

In early 1980 my family and I were given a chance to start a new life — we were sponsored into the United States from Cambodia by the Borup family: Carl and Elizabeth, and Don and Evelyn. Our lives after that were forever transformed, where we started all over again in Tremonton, Utah. We were very lucky and are very grateful to the Borups.

Kam's grandfather, grandmother, and mother in Cambodia

My family is ethnic Chinese. My grandfather (my dad’s father) was born in the province of Guangdong (or Canton).  In his late teens he left the mainland for Vietnam. Afterwards, he settled in Cambodia, where he married and had a family. Sadly, my grandmother died at the young age of 38 in Cambodia. After my grandmother passed, my grandfather continued to provide for his children and he never remarried. But sadly, he died in 1978, three years after the Khmer came into power. I have some fond memories of my grandfather; mostly about how much attention he use to give me.

My mother’s life was quite different compared to my father’s. To start, she was adopted at a very young age when her biological mother was unable to provide for her. My siblings and I know very little about my mother’s past, but we do know that she had very little formal education (mostly middle school-level).  Even still, she amazed us by how much she supported, encouraged, and inspired us to educate ourselves. She was never short of inspiring qualities, either, such as her strong commitment to the family. Because of her we are a strong family unit and are always looking after one another. My mother passed at a young age of 55 in 2004 due to an unexpected (and rare) illness, sadly only several weeks after I defended my Ph.D. dissertation. Fortunately, she came to my defense with the rest of my family to see me complete my degree.

© Copyright Kam K. Leang