Upon graduation, Chiao joined the Hexcel Corporation in Dublin, California from 1987 to 1989. He was involved in process, manufacturing, and engineering research on advanced aerospace materials, and worked on a joint NASA-JPL/Hexcel project to develop a practical, optically correct, precision segment reflector made entirely of advanced polymer composite materials for future space telescopes, as well as working on cure modeling and finite element analysis. In January 1989, Chiao joined the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, where he was involved in processing research for fabrication of filament-wound and thick-section aerospace composites. Chiao also developed and demonstrated a mechanistic cure model for graphite fiber and epoxy composite material (see Graphite-reinforced plastic). An instrument-rated pilot, Chiao has logged over 2500 flight hours in a variety of aircraft.