[INTERVIEW]: Department of Physics Professor Park Yong-Geun, Mentor to Numerous Student Authors of World-Class Articles
“Many prominent scientists, including Nobel Prize winners, recognized from the world in their early 20’s”
Undergraduate Cho Sang-Yun has published two articles in international journals and been accepted to 5 prestigious universities with a full scholarship.
“KAIST has various opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research . We support their research a lot.” said Park Yong-Geun, professor in the Department of Physics, “We have an excellent research environment here that others would envy. Undergraduate students publish articles for prestigious academic journals and produce patents. It is definitely worth the challenge at a young age.”
One by one, many of the students supervised by Professor Park have all published their articles at prestigious academic journals, and this has been a new source of motivation in the research field.
Fourth year physics major Cho Young-Joo (21) published “Angle-Resolved Light Scattering of Individual Rod-Shaped Bacteria Based on Fourier Transform Light Scattering” in Scientific Reports of Nature on May 28.
The analysis technique of bacteria is a crucial task in the field of medicine as well as food hygiene. It not only has taken a long time, but also has been difficult to examine bacteria as a whole when there are various shapes and forms of bacteria. However, it is now possible to analyze the different types of bacteria within a few seconds with the technique using light developed by Cho.
Cho stated that Professor Park allowed him to find his own direction to the answer, which proved to be the most helpful.
“I think it’s most effective to do research for at least six months beginning at the end of one’s third year or from the start of one’s fourth year,” he said, “and about a year must be invested to play a dominant role in research.”
It is not an easy task to perform independent research as an undergraduate student because most undergrads usually assist the research of graduate students. There aren’t many capable students and the risk of research is high, but Professor Park believes in the students and entrusts them with the research, and always urges his students to take responsibility for their own work.
Many of Professor Park’s students have been successful in the past as well. An article written by chemistry major Cho Sang-Yeon (24, returning fourth year) was published in journals such as Trends in Biotechnology of Cell and Scientific Reports of Nature in 2012 and 2013 during his military service, respectively.
Cho, with published articles in two scientific journals , has been accepted with full scholarship offers to prestigious universities, including Harvard University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, California Institute of Technology, and the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, which he will be attending this upcoming fall.
Cho worked many late nights for his research. His development of super-resolution optical imaging techniques was inspired by the automatic sensor streetlights he saw on his way to his dorm from research late at night that reminded him of the fluorescence resonance energy transfer that he learned during his physics class. This led to his article that was published in Scientific Reports in 2013.
“Cho is always thinking about research. His seriousness in discussing his research topics at times doesn’t seem like an undergrad. He regularly reads internationally published papers and comes up with new ideas, which almost feels to me like a fellow researcher, rather than my student,” Professor Park added.
Lee Seo-Eun(21, Class of 2014), who received the best paper award from the Optical Society of Korea last March, was also supervised by Professor Park. Lee will attend the Columbia University Medical School as a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Life Sciences . It is very rare for a student with a bachelor’s degree to enroll in a Ph.D program at a prestigious school abroad without a master’s degree.
“Lee first started research with an idea that I suggested but later developed an even better one. Her sincere attitude toward her work was very impressive,” said Professor Park.
Other undergraduates supervised by Professor Park published their articles in journals such as Optics Express and Journal of Biomedical Optics, and enrolled in various prestigious schools abroad such as Stanford.
Professor Park is not the only one interacting and supporting the research of undergraduate students. The graduate students of the lab are extremely used to this environment of working together with the undergrads.
Although research is conducted independently, communication efforts among the lab students addressing insufficient parts or the direction of research continue endlessly. There is no differentiating between professor, postgraduates or undergraduates.
“Perhaps word-of-mouth about our undergraduates’ big success has spread, and that has led many undergraduates to want to join our lab. It’s been four years since I came to KAIST, but the lab is fully crowded with students,” said Professor Park, “I want to supervise whoever is determined, and hope to produce many researchers who are more successful than myself.”
Park noted, “It is definitely difficult when research does not go well,” but also emphasized that “it is crucial to choose a field of interest and enjoy the process of research.”
Professor Park, a world-renowned specialist in the field of bio-optics, is a graduate of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Seoul National University. He received his Ph.D from the Harvard-MIT Health and Science Technology, and began his post as assistant professor in the Department of Physics in June 2010.
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