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“We make a sustainable future like the shade of green trees in July”

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  • Registration Date : 2018-07-10
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Story about Student

“We make a sustainable future like the shade of green trees in July”

Heo Min-haeng (Master/PhD integrated course, UST KRICT School Chemical Materials and Process Major)

The shade of green trees in July is a gift from nature. The students of UST Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KIRCT) School Chemical Materials and Process Major, which makes a future like green trees, are drawing attention because they have developed an eco-friendly process that manufactures “nanocellulose,” a next-generation nano material, in an eco-friendly way. They are student Heo Min-haeng and three other students who study under UST Professor Sin Ji-hun (KRICT, director of Center for Environmental Resources Research) and Professor Kim Yeong-un. Let us introduce their valuable experience before they published their research results in a paper.

  • Heo Min-haeng
    • Chemical Materials and Process Major
    • lead co-author
    • PhD program of Master/PhD integrated course: Advisor ? Kim Yeong-un
  • Lee Hyeon-ho
    • Chemical Materials and Process Major
    • co-author
    • Master’s program of Master/PhD integrated course: Advisor ? Sin Ji-hun
  • Jeong Hae-min
    • Chemical Materials and Process Major
    • co-author
    • Master’s program: Advisor ? Sin Ji-hun
  • Lee Hwi-hui
    • Chemical Materials and Process Major
    • co-author
    • Graduated from Master’s program: Advisor ? Kim Yeong-un

"Nanocellulose,” an eco-friendly material, is also manufactured in an eco-friendly way!

"Although it is an eco-friendly material, nanocellulose has been manufactured using acid. I heard that there was a study in the paper manufacturing field that lowered the degree of polymerization of cellulose with weak electron beams. I picked up the idea from that and thought whether cellulose could be produced in an eco-friendly way if it was treated with strong electron beam."
It was 2016. Student Heo Min-haeng, who had been conducting research on nanocellulose and polymer composite since he entered UST, came up with an idea to manufacture nanocellulose.

Cellulose, a component of trees, is expected to be a new material that can substitute for oil resources because it can be obtained with light and water alone. In particular, nanocellulose, which is nanonized by splitting cellulose by one billionth of a meter, has high strength due to the excellent interaction between molecules and outstanding hydrophilicity and can be applied to various industries. However, sulfuric acid has been used to obtain nanocellulose so far, and lots of water and energy and an additional dialysis process are used to neutralize or remove the acid.

The research process, which lasted more than one year, was not smooth all the time. They were the first researchers to try to develop an eco-friendly process using an electron beam and high pressure homogenizer. As they tried the manufacturing of nanocellulose with a new method that had not existed, all the processes were continuous challenges and an additional experiment with a new method was needed in the paper screening process.

“The UST education system, which helps us concentrate on research, supported the good research achievement,” Heo explained. “The people we meet in school are all the best experts in their field, so I feel reassured because I can get advice whenever I have questions or queries,” student Jeong Hae-min said. Meanwhile, student Lee Hyeon-ho emphasized the importance of motivation, saying, “What we see and hear in the laboratory are all high-level contents, so I cannot help but study harder than other students.”

In the end, these three students could grow one step more with learning and experience in the UST educational field, and their research achievement was published in issue No. 10, 2018 of Green Chemistry, an international journal in clean chemistry. The crystal form of nanocellulose, which has been produced in an eco-friendly way, is expected to be utilized in the medibio field such as for drug carriers, transplantation auxiliary material, and skin moisturizers as well as sensors, reinforcing elements, and liquid clean-up filters.

The biggest asset we learned from UST is to have a “challenging attitude”

“Most of all, wood and chemistry were fused to make synergy, and the direction setting and guidance of professors was a big help,” the three students said, emphasizing that the achievement was not possible without UST.

Heo Min-haeng and Lee Hyeon-ho, who majored in forest product engineering in their undergraduate course, were responsible for the experiment of nanonizing cellulose by shooting the electron beam and applied research on making nanocellulose into a foam type such as aerogel, respectively. Student Jeong Hae-min conducted reforming research on controlling nanonized electric charges of cellulose in the manufacturing process. Student Lee Hwi-hui also experimented together with the rest but did not have an interview due to employment.

The three students have many things in common. Student Lee Hyeon-ho has been participating in the corresponding research project directly and indirectly through a part-time job in the laboratory of KIRCT and has been a UST intern research student since his undergraduate schooldays even though he is a freshman who just finished the first semester of an integrated course. He has been preparing to become a scientist, which is his dream, and chose UST as the stage where he will pursue his dream. Student Jeong Hae-min finished the third semester of Master’s program. She applied to be an undergraduate research student because experiments were fun and fortunately happened to listen to a presentation in UST by the Korean Chemical Society (KCS) while she was considering whether to keep studying or get a job. Heo also got to know KIRCT and UST as a part-timer during his undergraduate schooldays. All three students applied to UST without hesitation due to its cutting-edge research environment, which is not comparable to general university laboratories, and great student welfare.

The various student support systems of UST are nourishment that raises their dreams. Heo recommended in particular to participate in the international exchange support project. He said he participated in the “2017 Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials Conference” held in Canada in last summer and had exchanges with researchers from each country, which became a great asset for him. Student Jeong Hae-min was also greatly motivated to set a future direction as a researcher after participating in an overseas academic conference held at the University of Minnesota, USA in June.

“Grandiose as it may sound, I want to become a master of nanocellulose. What I learned from UST is that there is nothing I can’t do unless I am intimidated,” said Heo. He will apply for a post-doctoral course in an overseas institute as his next goal for following his dream. His eyes were full of sincerity.

To lead future technical innovation, we need new ideas and technologies that are entirely different from the past. Unlimited imagination becomes a reality at UST, where talented students with various majors and dreams get together. We support the dreams of the four students who will grow into a big tree in the new material field.