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70-year-old professor is to fire up his academic imagination

70-year-old professor is to fire up his academic imagination

Posted February. 26, 2016 07:24,   

Updated February. 26, 2016 07:41


The most promising Nobel Prize candidate, Ihm Ji-soon (aged 65), Korean physicist and a chair-professor at Seoul National University (SNU) is said to have been witnessed while he was nodding off during seminars. One might rightly guess that he would have missed most of the seminar contents but strangely enough, he is also said to be the first one who raises his hand during Q&A session. “I’m not dozing the entire session. The critical part of the presentation comes at later part and the introductory part is not that interesting,” he explained while expressing his apology to presenters.

He used to be called a genius as a kid. He graduated as high-school class valedictorian at Kyunggi High School of brilliant minds, ranked 1st in the national preliminary college entrance examination, today’s College Scholastic Ability Test, and entered SNU at the top in 1970 when there were individual university admission tests. But later when studying at University of California, Berkeley, he was dispirited. Bace then, still good in memorizing, understanding things and solving problems, he had hard time in catching up American students who produce not a few unique and creative ideas.

He was a pioneer in opening a new field of “Computational materials physics” while studying for his doctorate degree. He was the first one to discover the fact that multiple collections of Carbone nanotube produce features of semiconductor in 1998. Following the discovery, he achieved a remarkable feat by finding material structure where hydrogen can be stored in the form of solid matter. In 2011, he became the first Korean physicist who was entitled with a permanent membership at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which has the world’s foremost authority. Having studied six days a week in his lab, he has refused to serve any position at the university even when others criticized him for not doing so. He points out creativity as the most important virtue for conducting research.

One may think that Ihm has done nothing but studying in his entire life given his past career and achievement, which is not the case. As a high school student, he made a declaration to protest against constitutional amendment and he got suspended from the school. During the college years, he used to read a lot more of novels and social science books rather than those for his major. He teaches his students that extensive reading leads to deep thinking, which, in turn, leads to greater creativity. Having been interested in the reality as a kid, his studies are practical. From this March, he moves to Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) where the retirement age of 70 is guaranteed. It is expected that the 70-year-old active-duty professor fires up his imagination at the ivory tower.

한기흥기자 eligius@donga.com