Passion Created the Current Me and the Future Me (Bok-eum Kang, UST-Korea Institute of Science & Technology (KIST) Campus)
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- Registration Date : 2016-06-29
An invention that brings about change across the whole world sometimes begins with the most personal experience. The creators of such invention see the pain of other people through their own pain and go ahead to heal it. That is the pathway that our colleague, Bok-eum Kang, has walked along.
You are now working in Brain Science Institute. What made you interested in brain science among the many areas of neuroscience?
I suffered meningitis before I turned two. Naturally, I have had great interest in the brain, and I thought I wanted to do something helpful for patients suffering brain diseases like what I had. In fact, I prepared to go to medical school for this reason while I was taking my undergraduate course. Meanwhile, I participated in a research with regard to leukemia during my lab internship and felt attracted to conducting tests. What led me to the path of researcher was the flutter that I had felt when I performed a wholly new test. After my graduation from my undergraduate course, I joined UST to study brain science.
You took your undergraduate course in the US. Why did you come and get admitted to UST?
I spent my entire school years in the US and majored biochemistry at DePauw University. After graduation, I had to come back because of my passport’s expiration. At that time, I applied for a KIST internship program, which gave me another opportunity. One year later when I almost completed the internship program, I began to partake in the research of Dr. Bradley J. Baker. The project was aimed at developing a technology to visualize the brain activities. Dr. Baker was one of the most prominent researchers in this field, and the project was going smoothly, so I wanted to remain in the lab until it ended. To continue to participate in the research project, I entered UST in September of that year.
The research resulted in the fluorescent voltage sensor, ‘Pado.’
Yes, it did. Pado is a technology that observes the intensity of the light released by fluorescent protein according to the changes in voltage depending on hydrogen ion concentration (pH). Normally functioning brain, heart, and immune system requires a proper level of pH. In particular, pH changes in the brain have a close relationship with brain disease or cancer. The fluorescent voltage sensor is meaningful in the sense that it can check for abnormal changes in the brain and identify the causes of brain diseases; thus, it can contribute to the development of medicine. This is one of the most competitive fields where the most prominent research institutes are conducting their own projects. I feel proud that we can bring out the first success in th world.
Sometimes I had different opinions from the professor. Of course, I knew that he is way more experienced and skilled in that kind of project. But, there’s something that only the people in the lab would know. I couldn’t demonstrate it through numbers, but I sometimes had a kind of speculation over a certain cell test. I felt bad about the test results, so I proposed to him to modify the method, but he insisted to go on as it was. Then, I carried out the test as he directed, and when the test failed, as I guessed, I brought the result to the professor to tell him that I was right. Am I stubborn? (Laugh) It could look a little arrogant. But, he was so open-minded that he respected my opinion. This way, we narrowed the gap between us.
Tell us about the time you were finally successful in the test.
The professor used to go on business trips to the US four or five times a year, and whenever he was not here, I was able to get fruitful data. So he joked, “I should always be on a trip.” Once he went abroad again, I conducted the test as usual. I earned the fluorescent protein brightness change data, but it was too slight a change and not a good one in my view. But, when I told him about it, he liked it so much. The fact that the fluorescent protein reacted to a certain type of voltage was significant enough. Starting from it, we were able to obtain remarkable test results. He almost jumped for joy as he was successful with the test he had dreamed in his entire life. It was the moment when the dream research of the academic circle, the professor, as well as mine, finally came true.
What is your greatest motivation?
It is passion. Once I set up a plan, I push forward, until I reach the final goal without giving up in the middle. I was able to be successful in this research, because I did not come to a halt though I failed again and again. The ordeal that I underwent because of my disease was the beginning of a dream to being a person who can contribute to curing the disease. If I didn’t have such passion, I would have not been here.
Tell us about your research plan and ambition.
Achieving a scientific performance that could be recorded in the history of the academic circle is important, of course. But, I would like to rather focus on curing the diseases that afflict many people. I don’t want to lose the first resolution I made when I embarked on this job or the original reason of my study.
I hope all my UST colleagues have their own passion as a researcher, rather than sticking to a tangible result such as a thesis or degree. When you have a passion, you can stand up and challenge again even when you fail.