Thursday, February 2, 2012

Professor Kyung-Suk Kim melds engineering with history and humanities

“The West had William Tell and the East had Yang Man-Choon in Korea”

When Kyung-Suk Kim, a renowned Korean-American scientist and professor of mechanical engineering at Brown University, says this in his class Dynamics and Vibrations, a required course for engineering students, students are generally puzzled.

Yang was the legendary lord of Ansi Castle in Korea’s ancient dynasty of Goguryeo. He has been known to hit Emperor Taizong of the Chinese Tang Dynasty with an arrow in 645 A.D., when Tang invaded Goguryeo.

Kim`s students, however, pay attention to his lecture that combines history with physics and mechanical engineering if he says, “I will explain the principle of bow’s operations in a mechanical engineering point of view. The Korean bow is considered to be the best in the world from an engineering perspective, which you can confirm through experiments.”

Since 1989, Kim has taught mechanical engineering at Brown University, a prestigious Ivy League university in the U.S., with a laboratory text he wrote himself. More than 1,000 students have attended his lectures and 25 students have completed doctoral and postdoctoral studies under his advising over the years. Indeed, Kim has played the role of missionary for the promotion of Korea`s scientific excellence in its culture.

Speaking to the Dong-A Ilbo, a Korean news paper, over the phone Sunday, he said, “In the early 1990s, Brown University suggested me to develop a laboratory for engineering students that reflects some aspects of humanities and history. So I began working on developing such laboratory courses that bring in scientific excellence of Korean culture.”

Through experiments, Kim and his students have unveiled the secret of an ancient Korean bow that flies arrows up to nearly 1 kilometer, twice and three times the range of British and Japanese bows, though the bowstring is just 120 centimeters, shorter than Britain`s (180 centimeters) and Japan’s (2 meters). Kim showed that the Korean bow has a thrust of double pushes while launched, analogous to the thrust of a two-staged rocket.

Many had thought Korean bowstrings too short since Koreans have small frames. Kim, however, said the short bowstring creates great impellent power by the double-push mechanism and Korean bows bend to increase such power.

After completing graduate studies at Seoul National University, Kim went to the U.S. in 1976 for his PhD. He joined the Brown faculty in 1989 as a full professor. As the Director of the Nano and Micro Mechanics Laboratory at Brown, he received world attention last year with an article on the principle of precisely cutting carbon nano tubes using ultrasonic waves, written jointly with his collaborators at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology. The article was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, London.

- Courtesy of the Dong-A Ilbo (Korea)