An Uncle-like Professor Who Can Share the Joy of Science with You
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- Registration Date : 2015-04-21
If you have someone who can always back you up silently, you would certainly feel happy. Without ever pushing or rushing you, that person is constantly showing a sincere interest in you, making you feel a sense of trust. The students who are majoring in Clean Energy and Chemical Engineering at the KIST campus looks up to Professor YOON Changwon with such sense of trust. Instead of giving lots of difficult assignments, Professor YOON helps his students reflect on themselves―“Is this the happiest moment in my life wherein I am fascinated by the world of science?” He also makes them search for the things that they really want to do on their own. Last year, Professor YOON’s lectures were selected for the third edition of the Best Lectures in UST.
Professor YOON Changwon
· KIST(Korea Institute of Science and Technology) Campus
· Clean Energy and Chemical Engineering
Q. Please tell us about the subject you teach and your area of interest.
I am a professor of Clean Energy and Chemical Engineering. It is a field that focuses on the development of biomass-based fuels and chemical products, which are recently emerging as an alternative energy. By having a basic knowledge of hydrogen energy, fuel cells, and carbon dioxide conversion technology, as well as by conducting applied researches, we are taking an initiative to develop a pollution-free and clean energy.
I normally give lectures and conduct researches on fuel cells, particularly on hydrogen fuel, as a part of the Fuel Cell Research Center at the KIST campus. I focus on such subject and try to build a system for the core elements of fuel cells for transportation and power generation. In addition, I conduct a study on the production and storage technologies, as well as machines for fuel cells.
I am currently trying to figure out ways to store hydrogen in liquid form and to develop a system for generating hydrogen through the addition of a catalyst. My study can be applied to the production of fuel cells such as general-purpose hydrogen fuel cell, ultralight hydrogen fuel cell for military purposes, and multipurpose fuel for unmanned aerial vehicles, which are closely linked to the national energy security and to other relevant industries.
Q. The hydrogen fuel cell has reached the commercialization stage, hasn’t it?
Yes, you are right. Recently, Hyundai Motors applied hydrogen fuel cell, which is a first in the world. However, there are still a lot of problems to be solved. Although the hydrogen fuel cell was successfully deployed on a commercial scale, we still cannot use it because we do not have hydrogen stations. In order to build more hydrogen stations, it is important to find ways to increase the amount of hydrogen that can be stored per unit volume and unit weight. My study is closely linked to this.
We are currently working on the development and examination of the hydrogen storage materials, as well as the hydrogen storage and production technologies and catalyst technologies. Recently, we succeeded in creating a portable hydrogen fuel cell system that utilizes a high-capacity solid hydrogen storage material. We are preparing for its commercialization by successfully having a drone test flight that can stay in the air for a longer time.
Q. Last year, your lectures were selected for the third edition of the Best Lectures in UST. Is there anything special about your lectures or your way of teaching?
I am not sure if there is anything special about my lectures or way of teaching. I believe that every professor has a different way of teaching. I just hope that all my student researchers can find what they really want to do. Meanwhile, I am trying to make the best environment for them to study based on my previous experience. I also try to pass on the things I learned on how to study.
I guess it would be good to tell you more about my experience. I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and my postdoctoral program at the University of California, Berkeley in the United States. During that time, my supervisors had such a positive influence on me. They tried hard to create the right environment for me to concentrate on my study. Their sincere advices also helped me a lot. They were really open-minded, encouraging the students to freely talk about their assignments. At that time, I realized that what is really important is not the academic curriculum but the sincere attitude towards people, and I made up my mind that “someday, if I become a professor, I would be like them.”
So, I am trying to approach my students as if I were their close senior in school. Instead of forcing them to make a series of achievements, I am trying to let them know the joy of science and help them learn the basics. I am also trying to give them a chance to reflect on and figure out what they really want to do. If it seems that they are feeling down, I would simply let them go and have fun outside. I used to hang out with my students when they feel exhausted, exercising and drinking together. It is a shame that lately, I do not have the luxury to do that more often.
As I work on preparing a curriculum for a lecture, I try my best to plan things in the long term. I have to take it into account that the number of UST freshmen changes every semester. Besides, as it is likely that the master’s students enter the school without knowing much about the study, I believe that it is important to emphasize on the basics of science first because if you get off on the wrong foot, it will continue to push you in the wrong direction. So, I am always trying to keep that in mind, thinking that it will directly affect my students and their lives as scientists.
I prefer to give demonstrations to the class during lectures. It is difficult to understand a theory if you just talk about it. It will be easier if you can actually feel the structures and forms of what you are studying with your own hands. So, if I have a chance to get the real material, I would show the class how to handle it.
Q. It would be fun to study if I have a professor who can guide me like a close senior in my school. An international student even told me that you are like an uncle when you teach.
I basically think that “education is all about human relationships.” It is about passing on knowledge and philosophy; in other words, the willingness from one person to another. I believe it is inevitable that supervisors have a huge impact on the students’ study and way of life. I am aware of the position I am in. By always keeping that in mind, I try my best to have a positive influence on them.
I think it is important to enjoy what you are studying. Do you remember what Steve Jobs said in his speech to graduating students at Stanford University? He said, “The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I think the same idea applies to the study. You need to have a faith in what you are doing, believing that your study can help someone gain some insight. And then, your study will turn out to be a great work, which will make you feel satisfied, too. I wish my students would hold onto this kind of philosophy as they live their lives as a scientist.
Q. You are currently teaching international students from Indonesia and Vietnam. Are you planning to accept more international students?
The international students begin their lonely journey as a researcher in a place where they cannot freely communicate. It was the same case for me when I was studying in the United States. Because of the cultural differences, there are many things you have to care about. For instance, I should avoid having beef or pork when I have supper with either a Hindu or Muslim student. (Laugh) But I really enjoy studying with them. If students from various cultural backgrounds participate in the study, we could have more fruitful discussions. Therefore, I always welcome the opportunity to work with more international students.
Q. Is there anything you would like to say to your students?
Being a scientist, you might feel alone. There is nothing fancy about being a scientist. Nobody seems to recognize your hard work. You have to study on and on, buried in piles of books and articles. You have to prove the idea that you come up with through this endless process of studying. No one would become a scientist to earn money. However, I am sure that every one of you is here to study, hoping that you could be of help to the world.
I hope my students do not get exhausted. I wish that they would be able to reflect on why they are studying, whether it is what they really want to do, and finally come up with “their own vision to continue in the long term.” I hope that they would become absorbed in the world of scientific exploration at the UST-KIST. Finally, I wish that all of us, including my students and I, would be remembered as people who truly loved ourselves, appreciated what we do, and knew how to pave our own way.