Interview With Dr. Myun-Sik Kim

By Gale Mamatova

Dr. Myun-Sik Kim received a Master degree on Mechatronics from Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST), Korea in 2004 and a PhD in Photonics from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, in 2011. He is currently working with SUSS MicroOptics as a senior metrology engineer.

Mamatova: Dear Myun-Sik, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell us little bit about what inspired you to become a scientist?

Kim: It was my first conference attendance in 2003 that opened my eyes to the field of science.  My master program was all about studying, meaning taking classes, reading books, and doing homework. After that trip, I was excited to be a scientist.  It opened my eyes to the real research fields and what other scientists and researchers are doing.

Mamatova: How did you discover the science of Optics and what fascinates you the most?

Kim: Before studying optics, I almost never paid attention to the light or the optical phenomena. Once I started learning more about it, I was captivated by the light in nature. A rainbow, blue sky, and Aurora borealis fascinated me. For instance, in December 2004, I went to Iceland in order to see Aurora borealis. It was -30°C with about 4 hours of day time! All my friends said it would be a crazy trip, but I really saw Aurora borealis with my naked eyes.

Mamatova: What are some difficulties or challenges you’ve had to face and/or currently face being in the field of science?

Kim: I think everyone has a slump. For a scientist, a slump is when one feels a lack of ideas or of subjects to investigate further. I have been there. Fortunately, I am more experimentalist than theoretician. So, when I have those problems, I go to the lab and do a lot of experiments to refresh my mind and to recover my enthusiasm.

Mamatova: What do you love most about science?     

Kim: I can say two things. One is a discovery, which makes me the first one to uncover secrets of my research domain, and the other is learning secrets of nature that are uncovered by others. The latter is similar to reading a history book, which tells a lot of peculiar happenings. Even if it is not my discovery, learning fulfills my intellectual desires for nature and science as much as the discovery does.

Mamatova: What other career would have had, had you not gone into Physics?

Kim: I would have become a diplomat. It was my childhood dream. When I was a kid, working in foreign countries and speaking other languages sounded very exotic and cool to me. After some time, I learned that I can live in foreign countries and speak other languages even if I am not a diplomat. For instance, I am now living in Switzerland with my Spanish wife and speak Spanish, English, and French without working in a Korean embassy.

Mamatova: Whom do you most admire?

Kim: In optics history, I admire French scientist Augustin-Jean Fresnel. Even if he was not an inventor, he established the wave theory with unbelievably clever insights into the light wave. He did not have a coherent light source (e.g. laser) or a computer, but he experimentally and theoretically studied light field behaviors. Specifically, I like the story that made his wave theory win the competition launched by the French Academy of Sciences, which refers to “Arago spot” or “Poisson’s bright spot.”

Mamatova: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Kim: Being a non-smoking PhD father. When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I had enough materials and achievements to finalize my PhD, but writing a thesis and preparing for the PhD exam are two different stories than just having materials on my hands! My first child, Sofia, inspired me to stop smoking and to work long days in order to finish writing my thesis before her birth. With her lovely push, I finished my PhD studies in 3 years with 5 journal publications.

Mamatova: Thank you!